All it took was one strategic speech to suddenly send Caretaker Chief Minister O Panneerselvam’s popularity skyrocketing. For long, OPS has been seen as little more than a placeholder.
And when he stepped aside on Sunday, in favour of AIADMK General Secretary VK Sasikala, it seemed that he had stuck to form once more. That was his third resignation in favour of the women who held the reins of the party.
But it seems that OPS’s deference to Sasikala was far less than it had been for late CM Jayalalithaa. And that difference, together with the growing disquiet towards ‘Chinamma’ has turned him into a seeming lightning-rod for popular discontent.
Already on Sunday, there were minor rumblings from cadres and supporters, many of whom quietly insisted that OPS seemed the better CM. Post his speech at the Jayalalithaa memorial on Marina on Tuesday evening, however, those rumblings have grown into more strident shouts.
Even before his speech had ended, shouts of “Sasikala, murderer” and “OPS Vazhgai” resounded in Marina. And the supporters gathered there freely give voice to the sentiments that go with these slogans.
As Shah Navaz, a 50-year-old supporter who had come to Marina with his four-year-old son, said, “Atrocity can't last too long. Nowadays you get punished immediately. Sasikala always wanted to be CM. Her plan has been foiled. OPS has gained our goodwill. OPS has made the right move. We were expecting this move from the morning. PH Pandian set the ball rolling, and even the Centre supports OPS.”
This dividing line that OPS drew between himself and Sasikala in his speech, is what seems to have turned the tide. In his two-month tenure, OPS performed as a proactive and hands-on Chief Minister. From Cyclone Vardah to the jallikattu protests to the recent Chennai oil spill, OPS was a visible CM, and earned much praise for it.
It’s no wonder that supporters express sentiments much like that of KVS Narayan, a Mylapore resident: “The entire state was watching his resignation anxiously. He proved himself in Vardah and jallikattu. He was very humble about it. He handled it very well. The Centre is watching us closely after Jayalalithaa died. He is someone the people have elected. Nobody wants the mafia group. He is the real CM. First the MLAs elected him. Now they make a U-turn. Just because they do this doesn't mean public will accept,” the 51-year-old supporter said.
OPS’s current tenure was a marked difference from his earlier two tenures, when Jayalalithaa’s departure from the CM’s post was seen as temporary and soon to be reversed. In both those cases, OPS refused to carry out any major actions as the CM, eager to avoid any attention that might get diverted from Jayalalithaa and fall on him.
This time on the other hand, while avoiding any outright signs of rebellion, OPS has shown himself as a hard worker, and one who is keenly devoted to the party and the state. Thus, support has begun to rally towards him, as many see him as a working CM as against Sasikala, who’s seen as simply wanting to get power.
As Renuka, a 32-year-old supporter from Chepauk says, “OPS has made the right move. This is what people want. He is responsible for growth of party. Sasikala had no post. How can she get CM post?”
With OPS’ sudden declaration that his resignation was forced, what it has done is to heighten the suspicions that had already been keyed up by Veteran AIADMK leader PH Pandian’s claims earlier in the day. Renuka, for instance, says, “Now as he has admitted that he was forced to resign, he should also tell the truth about Jayalalithaa's health. From the time Jayalalithaa got admitted there has been political turmoil. We are not interested in Sasikala's politics. If you can't make OPS the CM, then hold elections again. We will select. We voted for Jayalalithaa and she wanted OPS. So we won't accept any other alternative.”
(With inputs from Priyanka Thirumurthy)