Sasikala loyalist is new Tamil Nadu chief

Members of AIADMK holding up portraits of Sasikala and former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa as they celebrated yesterday in front of the governor's residence after AIADMK legislator Edappadi K. Palaniswami was sworn in as chief minister. Mr
Members of AIADMK holding up portraits of Sasikala and former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa as they celebrated yesterday in front of the governor's residence after AIADMK legislator Edappadi K. Palaniswami was sworn in as chief minister. Mr Palaniswami, who says he is a farmer, has 15 days to prove he has a majority in the state's assembly.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Low-profile legislator dubbed proxy of jailed politician, who retains leadership of ruling party

A low-profile legislator loyal to jailed politician V.K. Sasikala was sworn in as the chief minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu yesterday, capping more than a week of political uncertainty triggered by infighting in the ruling party.

Mr Edappadi K. Palaniswami, 62, who is dubbed "Sasikala's proxy" by the Indian media, was sworn in along with 30 ministers as some sections of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) celebrated.

Mr Palaniswami, who says he is a farmer, has been given 15 days by the Tamil Nadu governor to prove he has a majority in the state's assembly.

The AIADMK came to power early last year after winning assembly elections and the new Chief Minister will have to prove he has the support of a majority of legislators from his own party.

Sweets were distributed outside a five-star resort where he and other legislators had been kept in seclusion by Sasikala in her takeover bid.

Mr Palaniswami, who held multiple important portfolios ranging from home to finance, claims the support of 124 legislators. This is more than the 117 he needs to prove he has a majority.

A political crisis in the ruling AIADMK was triggered after the death last December of popular leader J. Jayalalithaa, who had dominated the party and never groomed a second-rung leadership.

A battle for succession broke out between Sasikala, who was Ms Jayalalithaa's constant companion for most of three decades, and her loyal aide O. Panneerselvam, who had stepped in as chief minister for short periods.

Sasikala's plans to become chief minister were scuppered when the Supreme Court convicted her in a graft case. She was jailed on Wednesday and barred from contesting elections for 10 years, but she did manage to handpick her successor in Mr Palaniswami.

Tamil Nadu's new Chief Minister is a four-time legislator from Salem, which is known for its stainless steel production, and is a member of the Gounder community from the western region of Tamil Nadu. He has been a Jayalalithaa loyalist since the 1980s and was minister for public works, highways and minor ports in the last Cabinet.

The low-profile politician has been out of the limelight till now, and remains loyal to Sasikala and members of her family

Analysts say the new Chief Minister's key challenge will be to keep the party together. Mr Panneerselvam and his supporters, including 11 MPs, promise to continue the fight against Sasikala's family.

After the guilty verdict, Sasikala had installed her nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran, who had been expelled by Ms Jayalalithaa in 2011, as the deputy general secretary, a powerful post within the party.

Sasikala, who is sharing a jail cell with another woman inmate, retains the general secretary's post.

"We will not let the party go into the hands of a few of V.K. Sasikala's family members: We'll continue with our 'dharm yudh' (moral battle)," said Mr Panneerselvam.

Analysts said that it remains to be seen if Sasikala, like Ms Jayalalithaa, is able to retain her hold over the party while in jail.

"It will be interesting to see what type of control Sasikala has on the party," said Dr Sandeep Shastri, pro vice-chancellor of Jain University in Bangalore .

"She is no Jaya in terms of being able to sustain mass support or the support of legislators. This is a stopgap arrangement until a final decision within AIADMK on who will lead the party.

"Ms Sasikala has brought in her nephew to control the party," he added. "So how will he behave with the legislators? I don't think it will be smooth sailing. It's curtains down on one scene. What happens in the next scene is yet to be seen."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2017, with the headline 'Sasikala loyalist is new Tamil Nadu chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe