Monday, September 29, 2014

Humble and loyal, OPS was the obvious choice

After starting out as a humble tea-stall owner, Tamil Nadu’s Finance and Public Works Minister has had a meteoric rise in politics. After starting out as a humble tea-stall owner, Tamil Nadu’s Finance and Public Works Minister O. Panneerselvam has had a meteoric rise in politics. On Monday, the 63-year old will be sworn in as the Chief Minister again for the second time. He is not the choice of the people. On both occasions, AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa, who has had to step down as Chief Minister because of judicial intervention, has chosen him for the top post as a reward for his loyalty. OPS, as he is known in the party circles, belongs to the Thevar community, one of the strong support base of the AIADMK. Born in a small town west of the temple city of Madurai, he tried his hand at agriculture after graduation but soon gave it up to take up dairying and opened a canteen, locals say. Elected as Chairman of the Periyakulam Municipality in 1996, he became friends with T.T.V. Dinakaran, nephew of V.K. Sasikala, who has also been sentenced with Ms. Jayalalithaa by the Bangalore special court. Mr. Dinakaran was a Member of Parliament representing Periyakulam constituency then. Close to Dinakaran His proximity to Mr. Dinakaran helped Mr. Panneerselvam climb the political ladder. Elected to the Assembly in 2001 from the Periyakulam constituency in Theni district, he became the Revenue Minister. When Ms. Jayalalithaa was forced to step down in September 2001, she chose him as the stop-gap Chief Minister. In March 2002, she became Chief Minister again and he was assigned Public Works, Prohibition and Excise portfolios. It was during that time the State took over the retail trade of liquor through government-run shops. In 2006 when the DMK came to power, he became the deputy leader of the AIADMK. The DMK had shifted the Assembly from Fort St. George to a new German-designed complex. In the final session of that Assembly, Mr. Panneerselvam declared: “In the coming Assembly elections, the AIADMK will win. Amma will rule the State from the Fort.” The AIADMK won the 2011 Assembly elections. And he was number two in Cabinet. With Ms. Jayalalithaa in jail now, Mr. Panneerselvam will be Chief Minister again. Because he, probably, is the foremost among the few ministers who continue to enjoy Ms. Jayalalithaa’s confidence. He is still humble.

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