Ground report: The reality of O Panneerselvam’s support

The supporters at OPS' residence range from optimists to realists and pessimists too.
Ground report: The reality of O Panneerselvam’s support
Ground report: The reality of O Panneerselvam’s support

It has been five days since O Panneerselvam sat down to meditate at the Amma Memorial in Marina beach. His calm demeanour and closed eyes, a sign of the calm before the storm he unleashed against VK Sasikala. The AIADMK General Secretary, he alleged, forced him to give up the responsibilities that J Jayalalithaa bestowed upon him. A sea of supporters gathered outside the memorial,  raising slogans, lauding him as 'Amma's true successor' and even following his convoy home.

In the days following his dramatic metamorphosis from 'Mixture mama' to 'manik basha'  supporters have continued to stream into Panneerselvam's residence. According to the IT Wing volunteers at the venue,  the count stands at 47,707 as of 2pm on Sunday. But the numbers that will actually propel Paneerselvam to the CM's position are yet to change since Saturday evening. With no new MLAs visiting to express support to the caretaker Chief Minister, the OPS camp is far away from the three digit numbers it requires to win in the Assembly.

"How can MLAs come running to Anna when she has them locked up?" asks Meenummaiyal, a 45-year-old AIADMK supporter. "They are being held against their will and if freed they will come running here. That woman cannot ruin what Amma has created," she claims.

The supporters at OPS' residence range from optimists to realists and pessimists too. Even families can't seem to agree upon what they expect. Ganapathy, a senior citizen from Indira Nagar had come with his wife and brother to show his support for OPS.

While Ganapathy is sceptical about whether OPS will gain the support of the required number of MLAs before the Governor makes a decision, his wife strongly disagrees. "MLAs know who the public supports. They know which way the wind blows, so they better get here fast," she says. Behind her, the crowd rushes to the gate,  breaking into claps and hoots.

The excitement is palpable and immediately whispers of "Is it an MLA? Who is it? Which MLA?" fills the air. Drum beats can be heard even before the column of men are seen. Already slogans are being raised in anticipation of another MLA joining the OPS camp.

But minutes later, no car is in sight and supporters from the RK Nagar constituency announce their arrival to a disappointed crowd that shuffles back towards the stage set up in front of Panneerselvam's residence.

"The verdict for the DA case will come this week and Sasikala will go to jail. Then we will see where these MLAs go," says Panneerselvam, the 99th division joint secretary of Annanagar. He sits with seven other men from the area, on plastic chairs, watching the proceedings on the stage on a screen set up in the garden.

Team OPS has now transformed the patio of his residence into a refuge for his supporters. Four colourful canopies have been set up back to back to provide shade to those visiting Panneerselvam. Under the canopy sits the IT team,  diligently noting down the details of all those who visit. "We will maintain a database of supporters and use social media to keep them informed about the next steps of our campaign," informs Palaniappan, one of the volunteers seated there.

Right after they register their names, visitors make a beeline to meet the man of the moment. A majority of women wait to meet the OPS, ready for even a mere glimpse of him. Woman voters have been traditionally seen as former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's vote base, and the fact is not lost on the supporters.

"You can see the number of women gathered here," says Dr. Noorjahan, a self proclaimed Gandhian. "We support him because he is good. He showed us his capabilities when he handled the aftermath of Vardah and the Ennore spill. Panneerselvam respected Jayalalithaa and will maintain her ideals," she says as she moves ahead in the line.

For those waiting outside, OPS reserves periodic appearances. The crowd breaks into cheers every time he comes out and folds his hands. His image flashed on a large screen outside even as cadre serve those who have showed up puli rice and pickle.

The entrance to his residence is an example of the common citizen’s business acumen. Women have set up stands to serve boiled peanuts, and in one corner an old lady displays memorabilia on sale. Pictures of Jayalalithaa and Panneerselvam are scattered across a green cloth. No picture of the AIADMK General secretary is in sight.

"I have been selling pictures for 30 years, since MGR's death. I refuse to sell Sasikala's picture. Only Panneerselvam is a true follower of Amma," she declares.

Panneerselvam's reverent attitude towards 'Amma' is no secret and the signature campaign currently underway to convert Jayalalithaa's residence into a memorial has only added more shine to his crown of devotion. 3 large canvases have already been painted by signatures of visitors at the venue. "I have 20 books of signatures demanding a memorial," says Priya, a volunteer at the venue. "We have over two lakh signatures overall," she claims.

24 year old Bala Subramanian looks on dispassionately at Priya's attempts to gain support for the memorial. He along with some more friends from Tirunalveli have been at the OPS's residence for 5 days and the disillusionment is obvious.

"How will MLAs come here? We may not get the numbers on time," he says. But the supporters are all united in their stand that Sasikala cannot be allowed to become Chief Minister. "She has never even held a Councillor's post before. How can she even become CM? We don't mind if a senior AIADMK leader gets the post," he shrugs.

As the day comes to an end, the anxiety over the lack of new legislators in the camp is clearly surfacing. But for the men and women gathered at the OPS residence, confidence comes in the form of the pending DA verdict. A judgement which, they hope, will drive MLAs in large numbers to OPS.

Elections 2023

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