In response to allegations that he only became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu at Sasikala's behest, Edappadi K Palaniswami, in an exclusive interview to NDTV, said he was chosen for his merit. "I got the position because of my experience and knowledge... It did not come immediately. I was MP, MLA, minister, then chief minister," EPS said.
EPS compared his appointment to that of DMK leader M Karunanidhi, the five-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, who first got the top job after the death of CN Annadurai, the founder of the DMK.
"No one voted for M Karunanidhi to become Chief Minister, the vote was only for Anna. In the same way, whenever a leader dies, a new person is appointed as CM. In the same way, I got the position of chief minister," EPS said.
EPS' prime rival in the upcoming state assembly polls is MK Stalin of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Mr Stalin has called EPS' All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) the 'BJP's B-team' in its alliance with the national ruling party.
In response, EPS brought up the 1999 alliance between the DMK and the BJP after the AIADMK-BJP relationship dissolved that year. "Does that make DMK the B-team of BJP? DMK leader Murasoli Maran was a Union Minister in the NDA government... If the DMK and BJP could join hands, that is fine, but if we join, then it's wrong? This is DMK propaganda," he said.
He dismissed concerns that the BJP was forcing the alliance and using central agencies like the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax department to pressurize AIADMK leaders for support. "This is wrong... We were not harassed by the Centre even once. AIADMK is performing well because of the support from the Centre. One of the reasons why the AIADMK is doing well is because of BJP," he said.
When asked about Sasikala's surprise exit from politics ahead of Tamil Nadu polls, EPS evaded the question. "You need to ask her that," he said. A power struggle between Sasikala and EPS was expected, after Sasikala finished her prison term for her disproportionate assets case. Her exit from politics has left the path clear for EPS to contest elections for the first time as a Chief Ministerial candidate.
EPS also said he is not threatened by TTV Dhinakaran, who was expelled from the AIADMK in 2017 and is now contesting the assembly polls with his breakaway party, Amma Makkal Munnettra Kazagam (AMMK).
"Now there is no support for him. People are disappointed with him. He will not even get half the support he got last time," EPS said.