The announcement of 65-year-old O Panneerselvam comes as no surprise for those who keenly following Tamil Nadu politics. O Panneerselvam previously stepped in as the Chief Minister on two occasions when J Jayalalithaa had to step down.
- A tea vendor-turned-politician, 65-year-old Panneerselvam, popularly known as OPS, was late Jayalalithaa’s Man Friday.
- This is the third time that ‘Amma’ loyalist has stepped up for his leader: first, in September 2001, for six months, when Jayalalithaa was disqualified by the Supreme Court in the ‘TANSI’ land deal case, second in September 2014, after a Bangalore court sentence Jayalalithaa to four years in jail and fined Rs 100 crore in the disproportionate assets case. As Chief Minister, he widely lauded for his loyalty to Jayalalithaa in her absence on chair.
- He belongs to the dominant Mudukulathor community and has risen from humble origins, having run a tea stall at his home town Periyakulam which is still being operated by his family.
- Paneerselvam entered in politics in 1996, became the chairman of the Periyakulam Municipality in Theni district.
- A first-time Minister in 2001 after his election to the Assembly, he was vested with the key Revenue department by Jayalalithaa, which indicated her confidence in him.
- Even when in the Opposition, Panneerselvam was the No.2, from 2001-06 and he was considered Jayalalithaa’s trusted lieutenant in the party rankings.
- He is AIADMK’s most powerful leader after party supremo and late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.
- He has been repeatedly chosen as a caretaker of the Tamil Nadu government as he was seen as the most loyal.
- As a leader of the House since 2011, except period when Jayalalithaa was convicted in a graft case, Paneerselvam often handled the House proceedings with deft ease, especially in explaining the state’s position on financial matters as a Finance Minister.
- As a loyal soldier Panneerselvam duly gave back the reins of power to Jayalalithaa when courts acquitted her in both the cases.
It is no surprise that Pannerselvam, considered to be the most loyal minister in her Cabinet was chosen to follow Amma’s footsteps. Now the trusted lieutenant and staunch loyalist of Jayalalithaa, O Panneerselvam, faces the challenge of keeping the AIADMK together as it tries to reinvent itself without the charismatic party supremo.