Politics in Tamil Nadu: Rank and Bile
A vicious inheritance battle engulfs the state government.
ON THE various occasions that O. Panneerselvam, or “OPS”, served as the chief minister of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, he made a point of being invisible.
He knew that Jayaram Jayalalithaa, the head of his party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and chief minister for most of the past 15 years, had chosen him as a stand-in whenever she was battling corruption charges or illness precisely because he was so self-effacing.
Even after “Amma”—“Mother”—a former idol of the Tamil film industry, died in December, Mr Panneerselvam meekly agreed to step aside as chief minister in favour of V.K. Sasikala , a woman who has no political experience beyond having lived with Ms Jayalalithaa for the past 30 years, but is claiming her mantle.
On the night of February 7th, however, OPS embraced the sort of melodrama he has so long eschewed.
Sitting cross-legged before a flower-strewn memorial to Jayalalithaa, he spent 40 minutes in silent meditation, as television crews assembled and news alerts set smartphones bleeping.
At last he spoke—or rather, he declared, the spirit of Amma spoke through him.
She had instructed OPS to tell the truth: that he had been unfairly forced from office by Ms Sasikala, who has already become secretary-general of the AIADMK.
Others soon joined in.
One of the party’s founders claimed that Jayalalithaa had been poisoned and pushed down the stairs.
Ms Sasikala called OPS the real traitor, and fired him as the party’s treasurer.
Tamil Nadu’s governor is supposed to be swearing in the new chief minister this week, but the outgoing one seems to want to rescind his resignation.
Ms Sasikala was Jayalalithaa’s live-in assistant and gatekeeper.
In 1992 they were photographed at a temple taking turns to pour holy water on one another from silver urns, a ceremony typically performed by husbands and wives.
But they were a tempestuous pair: Jayalalithaa twice booted Ms Sasikala from her house before relenting.
They were both charged for amassing “disproportionate assets”; Jayalalithaa was briefly forced to step down—one of the occasions when OPS took her place.
The charges may yet snare Ms Sasikala.
The AIADMK has always relied on larger-than-life personalities to win votes.
By the time Jayalalithaa died her face and name decorated countless canteens, hospitals and government handouts.
In such a personalised system, OPS has no incentive to go quietly.