Tamil Nadu: O Panneerselvam does a volte-face on Sasikala

Chennai: In a major volte face, AIADMK coordinator and Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, who rebelled against VK Sasikala in February 2017 and demanded an inquiry into former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s death, has said he never had any doubts or displeasure against Sasikala.

In February 2017, shortly after he had resigned as CM and proposed Sasikala as AIADMK Legislature Party leader, Panneerselvam had rebelled against her claiming he was forced to resign. Later he claimed that there was a mystery around Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation and death and demanded a judicial probe into it. Subsequently after Sasikala was jailed, Chief Minister EK Palaniswami agreed to the constitution of a Commission of Inquiry by retired Madras High Court judge Arumughasamy, paving the way for the merger of the Panneerselvam faction of the AIADMK with the ruling faction. Sasikala and her family were sidelined by them.

However, now he has done a volte face. “I do not have any displeasure towards her [Sasikala], not only now but from the beginning I never held anything against her,” he told Thanthi TV, a Tamil television news channel.

He said after Jayalalithaa’s death there were some issues (doubts about her death). “She [Sasikala] may get a bad name because of this. So if a judicial commission is appointed and she proves her innocence and is exonerated, the bad name will be erased. That is why I sought an inquiry,” he claimed.

Panneerselvam, who welcomed Sasikala’s decision to “step aside” from politics and support the Kazhagam (which he interpreted as AIADMK), and said this showed her “large heartedness”.

He insisted that he never had any suspicion about her. “I have been with her and with Amma (Jayalalithaa). I have moved with them. For 32 years, she was with Amma. I have no doubt about her,” he said adding that once the proceedings before Justice Armughasamy Commission resumed (now stayed by Supreme Court), “I will appear before it and tell the truth.”

Asked if Sasikala would be accepted into the party, should she change her mind on a political life, he said, “The Chief Minister has said there is no possibility of readmitting her. But as far as I am concerned, she had spent four years in jail. Oh humanitarian grounds and taking into account the fact that she had been with Amma for 32 years, if she accepts the current arrangement of dual leadership in the party and prefer to return, it can be considered,” he said.

Observers felt that Panneerselvam, who is upset at ceding his claim for being the AIADMK Chief Ministerial candidate, is seeking to posture within the party hoping to gain prominence with Sasikala’s support in the future. “Also the Mukkulathor community to which he and Sasikala belong is upset over her being sidelined. He may want to win their support in a crucial election,” said an observer.

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