What’s behind the sudden disappearance of former interim Chief Minister and once most trusted aide of Jaya O Panneerselvam from the political scene?
Things are not well in the AIADMK camp, as rumours are flying thick over Jayalalithaa’s most trusted and loyal man and considered in second in command O Panneerselvam is being sidelined along with four other ministers at a time when the polls are round the corner. According to rumours that OPS, as fondly called by cadres, who was the interregnum Chief Minister when Jayalalithaa had to resign in the wake of court verdicts twice, is being kept in house arrest. His lying low for a quiet some time has given fodder to gossip grinding mills to come out with various coloured versions.
A suave and soft spoken, the 69 year-old OPS has kept a low profile even when he was at the helm. He was twice hand- picked by party supremo Jayalalithaa in 2001 and in 2014. In 2001 she had to vacate office following a court verdict in TANSI land deal case. In 2014 she demitted office after she was imprisoned after the assets case verdict by Bangalaru
special court. OPS, hails from the powerful Mukkulathor community in Theni District and has risen from a humble beginning as an owner of a tea stall at his home town in Periyakulam.
OPS who willingly played the stop-gap arrangements for Jayalalithaa whenever she was in peril, steering the government and party affairs in her absence as her most trusted and loyal soldier. As a respect of measure and a higher degree of vow he grew beard till Jayalalithaa’s freed from jail, such was his loyalty for his leader.
TN ministers including OPS and MLAs bent forward whenever they see her or to speak to her as a token of extreme respect.
The two tell-tale signs of OPS not being in good books surfaced in the form of two meeting chaired by Jayalalithaa which he was not invited. In the first week of March, Jayalalithaa conducted token interview with aspirants, OPS was conspicuous by his absence.
AIADMK sources said growing clout of OPS’ family, especially his son Ravindranath Kumar, his brother O Raja who is a Periakulam Municipal chairman, OPS’s son-in-law Kasirajan and complaints of nepotism and jockeying have poured in from grass-root party cadres to Jayalalithaa. Jayalalithaa took the fight straight to the pockets that OPS claimed to have dominant Thevar caste backing. She reorganised the party structure in those districts and replaced them with arch-rivals of OPS
and group. “OPS’s attempts of putting together his own small coterie seem to have rung alarm bells in AIADMK camp.This is not the first time that she has distanced herself from a close aide,” pointed out a party functionary. Though later pardoned, her confidante Sasikala was no exception this. In 2011, Sasikala, who had lived in Poes Garden with Jayalalitha for almost 30 years, was shown the doors after her relatives of “Mannargudi mafia” were accused of abusing power.
Like the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back, a recent hashtag #OPS4CM (supporting Paneerselvam as the next CM of Tamil Nadu) trended on social media creating flutter in the AIADMK. There is no room for such things in AIADMK which is known for its utmost devotion and loyalty towards its leader viz Jayalalithaa.
Like a crane waiting for a fish on the pond, the opposition leaders including DMK president M Karunanidhi and MDMK chief Vaiko had alleged that the trio who were among the “trusted five” of Jayalalithaa’s cabinet were forced to remain out of public glare in recent times. They said that in-fighting the AIADMK would surface after the candidate list is out.