E Palaniswami, a loyalist of the now-jailed AIADMK General Secretary VK Sasikala, will on Thursday evening take oath as Tamil Nadu’s new Chief Minister.
Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao invited Palaniswami, 64, earlier elected by AIADMK MLAs backing Sasikala as their legislature party leader, to form a ministry “at the earliest” and win a trust vote within 15 days.
The move came a day after Palaniswami met the Governor and submitted a list of legislators backing him.
The Governor’s invitation set off celebrations in the Sasikala camp even as outgoing acting Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam pledged to continue his fight against “one family” taking over the AIADMK.
Panneerselvam said people were angry that a new government was being formed with the support of legislators who, he said, were held for days in captivity at a resort near here.
Minister for Milk and Dairy Development KT Rajenthra Bhalaji said the Governor had saved democracy by inviting Palaniswami to form the government. He said the legislators would soon vacate the resort.
Palaniswami aides said overnight that he had the backing of 124 of the 135 AIADMK MLAs, all holed up at the resort.
The Governor’s invite was a clear sign that Panneerselvam had lost the numbers battle and that he had been unable to woo the majority of party MLAs to his side despite being the Chief Minister.
Thursday’s celebrations by Palaniswami and the MLAs supporting him came after a day of gloom when Sasikala returned to the Bengaluru Central Jail after being held guilty of corruption by the Supreme Court.
Also jailed with her were her relatives Elavarsi and V.N. Sudhakaran. Sasikala, who had wished to become the Chief Minister, is now barred from contesting elections for 10 years.
Palaniswami, the Minister of Public Works, Highways and Minor Ports in the outgoing government, AIADMK Deputy General Secretary TTV Dinakaran and other leaders discussed government formation at the Poes Garden residence of the late Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa.
An emboldened AIADMK owing allegiance to Sasikala made it clear it will never embrace Panneerselvam.
Barring Panneerselvam and School Education Minister K. Pandiarajan, all other MLAs in “the rival camp are welcome to join us”, Handloom and Textiles Minister O.S. Manian told the media.
Panneerselvam revolted against Sasikala on February 7, alleging he was forced to resign as Chief Minister to pave way for her to occupy the post.
Sasikala hit back, sacking Panneerselvam as the AIADMK Treasurer and also from the party’s primary membership.
Earlier in the day, a senior leader in Panneerselvam’s camp told IANS that they expected a sizeable number of legislators from the Sasikala camp to join them. That was before the Governor invited Palaniswami.
The Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha, M. Thambidurai, said Jayalalithaa’s legacy will continue in the state.
Palaniswami was one of four ministers tasked by Jayalalithaa, who died on December 5, to advise her on party affairs. He was ranked number three in seniority.
He was tipped for the Chief Minister’s post after Jayalalithaa died but that did not happen.
Hailing from Nedungulam village in Salem district, Palaniswami belongs to the Gounder community.
A farmer by profession, he joined the AIADMK in the 1980s and entered the Tamil Nadu assembly for the first time in 1989 from Edapadi constituency.
After the Supreme Court upheld the earlier conviction of Sasikala, she chose Palaniswami as her successor as the leader of the party legislature wing.