OPS’s attempts of putting together his own small coterie seems to have rung alarm bells in Poes Garden.

O Panneerselvam Why the AIADMK man has moved from Lieutenant to Left OutDuring swearing-in- Photo by PTI
news TN2016 Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 17:48

In September 2014, when a Bengaluru court convicted TN Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, there was not much doubt within her inner circles about who will take over the party’s mantle. The man chosen for the job was her loyal aide, the man who had become interim chief minister in 2001, O Panneerselvam.

But from September 2014, to March 2016, the equations seem to have changed drastically in the AIADMK, with OPS (as he is known) being steadily sidelined.

Two tell-tale signs of OPS not being in the favour book appear in the form of two meetings chaired by Jayalalithaa to which he was not invited. In the first week of March, as AIADMK president Jayalalithaa conducted token interviews with aspirants, OPS was conspicuous by his absence. Only three senior party leaders including party presidium chairman E Madhusudhanan, governing council member Tamizhmagan Hussain and party minority wing’s Justin Selvaraj were asked to attend the meeting.

Later as Jayalalithaa met seven alliance leaders, OPS was once again not invited, confirmed a source in Jayalalithaa’s office. “He was busy with party work,” was the explanation given. While OPS did not make the cut Jayalalithaa’s new ‘most trusted lieutenant’ in the party, Minister R Vaithilingam was present, as were P Thangamani, Edappadi K Palanisamy and SP Velumani.

In the last few days, district secretaries close to OPS have been removed from his home district Theni, also from Chennai, Karur and Kancheepuram. Not just OPS, district secretaries close to Natham Vishwanathan, an OPS loyalist in the party too have been removed.

“We are hearing that more local functionaries are likely to removed,” said an AIADMK leader who did not wish to be named.

So when did trouble start for OPS?

Some sources in the party trace it back to September 2014, while others say it is a more recent phenomenon. “He tried to become stronger within the party, even after she came out of jail and later took charge as CM again,” said another leader from the South.

“During the elections to party posts last year, OPS was in charge of a zone. But he seems to have entrenched himself with the local leaders in many of these districts. He already had considerable clout in some other places. But the issue is not just groupism. The talk in the party is that there were decisions and ‘deals’ that she was not happy about. And Sasikala too was unhappy,” said a source in the AIADMK.

OPS’s attempts of putting together his own small coterie seems to have rung alarm bells in Poes Garden. This is however not the first time that Jayalalithaa has distanced herself from a close aide.

In 2011, Sasikala, who had by then lived with Jayalalithaa for almost 30 years, was asked to leave the house after her relatives were accused of abusing power. Sasikala was forgiven and she was back in the house and party, perhaps more powerful than before.

But will OPS like Sasikala be able to claw his way back or are his days of being the trusted lieutenant officially over? If AIADMK sources are to be believed, OPS will not matter much, at least for the 2016 polls.

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