Chennai: Tamil Nadu will get its third Chief Minister in two months - E Palaniswami will take oath at 4:30 pm today, and must then prove his majority within 15 days. With this decision, Governor C Vidyasagar Rao has ruled in favour of the larger faction of the ruling AIADMK, which has been cleaved by dissent, owing to O Panneerselvam's refusal to quit the state's top job, as ordered by the party.
- Palaniswami and Panneerselvam both want to be Chief Minister
- Each met Tamil Nadu Governor last night to state their case
- Palaniswami, proxy for party leader Sasikala, to take oath this evening
Mr Palaniswami was chosen as presumptive Chief Minister by VK Sasikala, who quickly took charge of the AIADMK after the death in December of the party's matriarch, J Jayalalithaa, with whom she lived for more than two decades.
Ms Jayalalithaa was still Chief Minister when she died. Regular understudy O Panneerselvam was sworn in within hours as her replacement. Then, about two months later, Ms Sasikala, said she would take over from Mr Panneerselvam. Uncharacteristically, he refused. A week-long feud replete with feature film-worthy drama ensued. Then, the Supreme Court provided the mother of all plot twists by sentencing Ms Sasikala to jail for corruption in a case that was over two decades old.
Which brings us to Mr Palaniswami, 57, who was quickly chosen by Ms Sasikala as her proxy.
Mr Panneerselvam, 66, has not subscribed to that decision. He also met with Governor Rao last night, asserting that as Acting Chief Minister (protracting his track record of standing in, he was asked to remain caretaker till the new head of state was formalised), he deserves the chance to prove that he has the majority of support in the legislature.
Both Mr Palaniswami and Mr Panneerselvam presented signatures of the party lawmakers who are in their camps. The former offered 124; the latter, eight.
Before the Governor made today's call, he reportedly reviewed carefully the fact that for nearly a week, the legislators who've signed their support for Mr Palaniswami have been made to stay at a resort on the outskirts of Chennai to ensure they don't stray. Two said they "escaped", one by using a "disguise of Bermuda shorts and a t-shirt" - nothing as complicated as a fake moustache was needed, just the outfit supposedly did the trick - and he has filed a kidnapping case against Ms Sasikala and Mr Palaniswami. The legislators camping out at Golden Resort Bay dismiss talk of "a hostage crisis", as alleged by the rival team, as claptrap. They have informed the police in writing that their stay is voluntary.
Tamil Nadu has 234 legislators in all; at least 118 must back Ms Palaniswami; his faction claims to have 124, making him a safe bet.
There is also talk of private efforts to reconcile the two sides, an initiative reportedly being handled in part by TTV Dinakaran, who is Ms Sasikala's nephew. Before being imprisoned, she appointed him No 2 in the party (she retains the top post for herself). Mr Dinakaran had been expelled in 2012 by Ms Jayalalithaa from the AIADMK, along with Ms Sasikala, her husband and a dozen of their relatives. Begging forgiveness months later, Ms Sasikala swore to end all ties with the men in her family before being allowed back into the party and Ms Jayalalithaa's home.
Now, Mr Dinakaran, who spent much of yesterday at Golden Bay resort, where he was gifted silk shawls by welcoming legislators, is reportedly using AIADMK leaders with a strong connect to the BJP in Delhi to approach Mr Pannerselvam's team for a rapprochement. Mr Panneerselvam has said that he is "not acting at the BJP's behest" but has at the same time insinuated that the national ruling party supports his cause. The BJP has said it has no interest or role to play in the state's developments. But Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu met yesterday with senior AIADMK leader M Thambidurai and advised that the party remain united and form a stable government.