The victory in Tamil Nadu Assembly bypolls and a near win in Vellore Lok Sabha election seem to have boosted Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s confidence. For now, he has the support of the people and the party workers.
After the demise of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, when there were a number of twists and turns in the AIADMK party and in the state government, one would not have then thought that the Highways Minister Palaniswami would rise to such great heights.
While opponents have criticised Palaniswami of becoming a chief minister by virtue of a ‘historic accident’, in reality he has come a long way, structuring his own style from a district functionary to the chief minister.
While Jayalalithaa was known for frequently dropping ministers and shuffling her cabinet, Palaniswami had not followed that path until he dropped IT Minister Manikandan for criticising a cabinet colleague.
Party insiders feel that Palaniswami has got an upper hand now. And much of that is because of AIADMK’s recent victory in nine of the 22 assembly bypoll seats.
Before the bypolls, he was not seen acting decisively and confidently, a party worker said. “He was skeptical about getting support of the people.”
But the bypolls changed his demeanour as it was considered a crucial one for the AIADMK since the ruling party had to face two opponents — the DMK led by MK Stalin and the AMMK formed by rebel AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran.
“After the bypolls, he felt a sigh of relief as apart from saving the government, TTV Dhinakaran was trashed without getting even a single seat,” the worker added on condition of anonymity.
A senior district level functionary said that Palaniswami also wanted to capture power in the party. And this was why he floated the idea of a single leadership, rather than the current one in which he shared power with O Panneerselvam, through an MLA from a southern district.
Another MLA from Perambalur constituency also echoed his voice and went a step ahead slamming the deputy chief minister Panneerselvam.
Even though Panneerselvam and Palaniswami called on MLAs, MPs and district functionaries to solve the issue amicably, party seniors say that Palaniswami has sent out a message to Panneerselvam silently.
Now, after the elections, his assertion as the leader was evident in the way he handled the questions posed to him by opposition party MLAs in the recent assembly session. According to Manonmaniam Sundaranar University Tamil department head A Ramasamy, it was because he was aware that he would become the leader only if he strongly counters opposition leaders like Stalin.
“Jayalalithaa was taken seriously only after she took a dig at the DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi,” Ramasamy said.
He also cited Palaniswami’s recent criticism about former finance minister P Chidambaram as a model to build his image. “Before the election, though he criticised Stalin for his speech, he never touched national leaders, including Rahul Gandhi. But, now he intentionally criticises a senior leader to position himself as the leader. At the same time he is aware that it does not disrupt his vote bank,” Ramasamy said.
Referring to the recent Vellore Lok Sabha election, Ramasamy felt that Palaniswami has managed to get the support of his party workers as well.
“Without the party cadre’s effort, it is not possible to get a marginal defeat after a drubbing defeat in 38 Lok Sabha seats. So, now realising that he has the party workers’ support, he has begun to model his own style like J Jayalalithaa,” Ramasamy opined.
The state assembly has witnessed a culture for over a decade where neither Jayalalithaa nor M Karunanidhi would attend the Assembly session unless they are in power.
The AIADMK when in power, never took the suggestions of the opposition party. But, Edappadi Palanswami and his crew accepted several suggestions made by MK Stalin and the opposition.
AIADMK’s mouthpiece Namadhu Amma daily’s editor and AIADMK’s spokesperson Marudhu Azhaguraj said that Palaniswami has been evolving as a leader without having ego issues with opposition party leaders.
Azhaguraj also praised Palaniswami as one of the great leader from a simple background in the Dravidian movement.
“Even if Stalin makes a call to the Chief Minister, he doesn’t mind picking Stalin’s call and speaking to him. He has also replied to Stalin’s questions on several issues. So, he is a man who is easily approachable by everyone,” Azhaguraj said.
When asked about the party’s support to the BJP at the Centre, he said that the present BJP is trying to give a different face to the country and the AIADMK would oppose it only when necessary. “We need not oppose them blindly. When it comes to Methane extraction project, Cauvery issue, the party stands by its principle and we did not give it up,” he said.
However, Madras University Political Science department head Ramu Manivannan said that Palaniswami’s confidence was only because of the absence of Jayalalithaa.
“He has comparatively gained more confidence and independence than O Panneerselvam. But, he still seems to be one among the others in the AIADMK party and does not seem to have gained the people’s support in large as the former leaders had,” Manivannan said.