Bitter Panneer

34jaya Loyal club: Panneerselvam and Natham Viswanathan greet Jayalalithaa at her swearing in | PTI

His growing popularity and ambitions lead O. Panneerselvam to the sidelines

In the first week of March, #OPS4CM started trending on Twitter with memes featuring Tamil Nadu finance minister O. Panneerselvam. The hashtag generated thousands of tweets in a matter of hours. It, however, spelt trouble for Panneerselvam within the party. Though the hashtag was seen as the handiwork of the DMK, sources in the ruling AIADMK said it made Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa and other leaders wary of Panneerselvam’s popularity and ambitions.

Within weeks, the staunch loyalist of Jayalalithaa fell out of favour with her. For the first time since he became the party treasurer in 2007, Panneerselvam has been kept out of crucial party meetings. Early March, when Jayalalithaa interviewed a few aspirants for party ticket, Panneerselvam reportedly was not invited to the meeting. He was not present at the meeting Jayalalithaa had with leaders of the party's allies. The buzz is that he will not get a ticket for the assembly election of May 16.

“Three ministers [Panneerselvam, Natham Viswanathan and P. Palaniappan] have been sidelined in the AIADMK. There are a series of changes in the AIADMK in Theni and Dindigul districts,” said DMK chief M. Karunanidhi. “This is another drama. How many times have ministers been changed in the last five years? Ministers were changed because they made mistakes. But the same ministers were then inducted again into the cabinet. If so, what happened to the mistakes they committed? The AIADMK leader should explain why Panneerselvam is being sidelined now.” MDMK leader Vaiko said a five-member

group in the AIADMK, including Panneer-selvam and Viswanathan, have fallen out of grace following charges of nepotism and corruption. “It is said Panneerselvam and his family have made money. The AIADMK and Jayalalithaa should come clean on this,” said Vaiko, who has stitched together an alliance with Vijayakanth's DMDK and Left parties.

Panneerselvam had been on a steady rise in the party, all thanks to the loyalty points he had earned. He was brought into the party by Sedapatti Muthiah, who later joined the DMK. An MGR loyalist, Panneerselvam would play the actor's songs at party meetings. He became the chairman of Periyakulam municipality in 1996. When T.T.V. Dinakaran, nephew of Jayalalithaa's confidante Sasikala Natarajan, was rising through the ranks, Panneerselvam became his loyal supporter. It was on Dina-karan’s recommendation that he was given the ticket to contest the 2001 assembly poll. When Jayalalithaa had to step down as chief minister in 2001, after she was convicted in the TANSI case by the Madras High Court, she chose him to take her place. Throughout his five-month tenure as chief minister, Panneerselvam stayed loyal to Jayalalithaa.

When Jayalalithaa was convicted in the disproportionate assets case in 2014, Panneer-selvam was made chief minister again. “This was when he became ambitious because the impression within the party was that it was politically and legally difficult for Amma to come back. Besides, there were rumours about her health,” said a former AIADMK minister. The growing clout of Panneerselvam's family, especially his son Ravindranath Kumar, brother O. Raja and son-in-law Kasi Rajan, in Chennai and his home turf, Theni, has not gone down well with Jayalalithaa. Also, Panneerselvam has been successful in building a small coterie around him.

On March 20, Panneerselvam and Viswanathan were spotted at the AIADMK headquarters in Chennai to discuss the election manifesto. “It is just a formal presence,” said an AIADMK leader. “Amma hasn’t removed him from the election manifesto committee only because she feels it would turn into an election issue.”

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