V. K. Sasikala to be next Tamil Nadu chief minister

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Chennai: Exactly two months after the death of Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) general secretary V.K. Sasikala was appointed the legislature party leader on Sunday, setting the stage for her to assume the mantle of chief ministership from her late friend and leader.

Chief minister O.Panneerselvam, who proposed Sasikala’s name as the legislature party leader, tendered his resignation citing “personal reasons”.

Sasikala, who is expected to take charge as chief minister on 7 or 9 February, has six months from her swearing-in to get elected to the assembly.

Opposition leader and working president of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), M.K. Stalin said, “Jayalalithaa never gave any post in government or party to Sasikala. The people of Tamil Nadu will not accept her as the chief minister.”

Stalin added that DMK will “face the election democratically.”

As with other meetings of the AIADMK, the agenda for its Sunday meeting had not been made public. But developments in the last few days led to mounting speculation that there might be a significant shift in power.

Firstly, in a surprise move, former chief secretary Sheela Balakrishnan who had been appointed by Jayalalithaa as adviser to the Tamil Nadu government after her retirement in March 2014, quit from her post on Friday. Two others, K.N. Venkataramanan and A. Ramalingam, secretaries in the chief minister’s office, were removed from their posts.

Referring to Balakrishnan’s “abrupt exit”, Stalin said on Saturday that it signalled the beginning of a war between Panneerselvam and the AIADMK party leadership, causing instability in the working of the government.

Hours before these senior administrative changes in the state government, the ruling party made 23 new appointments, taking the number of office bearers in the AIADMK from 38 to 61.

Former ministers K.A. Sengottaiyan, former Chennai Mayor Saidai S. Duraisamy and 11 others were appointed as AIADMK organizing secretaries.

“The appointment of 13 more organizing secretaries along with the existing 10 will aid the party. However, it is also an indication to boost the support base for ‘Chinamma’ (Sasikala’s nickname),” said an AIADMK member.

Although Jayalalithaa’s trusted lieutenant Panneerselvam took charge as chief minister just two hours after her death on 5 December, senior AIADMK members have been urging Sasikala to take over the reins of the party and the government for the past two months.

Sasikala, a close friend and confidante of Jayalalithaa, took over as AIADMK general secretary on 29 December—a post that had been held by Jayalalithaa since 1989.

While the ‘Sasikala for CM’ chorus has grown louder, Stalin said that Panneerselvam should not worry about his post and instead focus his attention on people’s issues.

Interestingly, during the assembly session last week, DMK members who objected to Sasikala being praised in the state legislature—she is not a legislator yet—did not attack Panneerselvam.

On Wednesday, senior DMK leader S. Duraimurugan told the state assembly that his party would lend its support to Panneerselvam and had no objections to him continuing as chief minister. He cautioned, “Beware of those around you. We won’t do any harm to you.”