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New CM Panneerselvam has to emerge as a leader in his own right in Tamil Nadu

"With the passing away of Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) faces its biggest test of remaining united. As expected senior leader and a staunch loyalist of Jayalalithaa popularly known as ""Amma"", O Paneerselvam was administered the oath of office and secrecy at 01 AM on the night of December 5/6. The transition was smooth and orderly as he had served as acting chief minister on at least on two occasions in the past with Amma having to step down on the directions of the court. Having faced adversity all her life Jayalalithaa took up the challenge posed by her rivals resolutely overcoming them and becoming the chief minister of Tamil Nadu a record four times. She was the second woman to become the chief minister of the southern state after her mentor the late M G Ramachandran's wife Janaki occupied that office for barely three weeks. However, Amma's confidant for nearly three decades Sasikala Natarajan has ambitions of taking over the reins of the AIADMK as its all powerful general secretary. There is already speculation that Sasikala is arraigning to herself the role of being the power behind the throne. One does not really know if this is what the ailing Jayalalithaa had in mind. At the same time what cannot be lost sight of is that despite differences between Amma and Sasikala on several occasions, the former appears to have given up the bitterness. One wonders if Amma had changed her mind of her own volition or there were other compelling reasons. At the same time Sasikala remained steadfast in being by Jayalalithaa's side during all the 74 days that she remained in Apollo hospital in Chennai till she breathed her last at 11.30 p m earlier in the week on December 5 night. Without wasting much time Jayalalithaa's body was moved to the historic Rajaji Bhawan for the people to pay their last respects. In all this Sasikala held sway accepting condolences standing next to Jayalalithaa's body.  The signs are ominous amid discernible unease in the rank and file of the AIADMK about Sasikala's possible transition to holding the whiphand of the AIADMK as its general secretary. She has competition if at all in another senior leader Thambi Dorai, who is the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha, being in the race for the all powerful general secretary's job of the Dravidian party. Amma's association with her confidant Sasikala has always been viewed as an extra-constitutional authority alienating sections of Jayalalithaa's support base. She drove away allies that Jayalalithaa had struggled to win back following MGR's passing away. Jayalalithaa's propensity to drive away friends was more than matched by her ability to bring together foes. Jayalalithaa had remained the party supremo along with being the chief minister. Expectedly, the job of being the chief minister as well as the AIADMK's general secretary is now sought to be split rather than being concentrated in the hands of one person as evidenced during Jayalalithaa's reign.  Amma's death has come as a shock to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has lost a good friend ever since he was the chief minister of Gujarat. The significance of AIADMK's support to the BJP led NDA government in New Delhi cannot be undermined or brushed aisde. This Dravidian party has muscle at the centre with its 50 seats spread in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in Parliament. The BJP has an opportunity to increase its footprint in the South comprising Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Telengana and Andhra Pradesh and the lone union territory of Puducherry having a tally of more than 200 seats in the 534-member Lok Sabha. With four-and-a-half years to go for the present AIADMK regime in Tamil Nadu, Paneerselvam faces the challenge of not only keeping the party united but also of carrying Amma's legacy forward coupled with reinventing the Dravidian party in the post-Jayalalithaa era.With Sasikala and her hushand Natarajan seeking to take over the AIADMK, the next three months is going to be crucial period for Paneerselvam's survival as the chief minister. It is widely believed Sasikala had zeroed in on OPS to be the chief minister in Jayalalithaa's absence. The question is does Paneerselvam have it in him to keep the disparate forces in the AIADMK in check and break the shackles of the past as a ruthless Jayalalithaa brooked no opposition to her. She ruled with an iron fist and lets also not forget that she was an Iyengar brahmin who earned the respect and awe of Dravidians.DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi has conceded that Jayalalithaa will be remembered for ever for uplifting the poor. At the same time it is widely believed that the self effacing Paneerselvam can break the shackles and emerge a leader in his own right. Or is it wishful thinking as the political intrigues have already begun.Without having the charisma of MGR or the political acumen of Jayalalithaa, it will be tough task for the new chief minister. Like the Prime Minister, Paneerselvam or OPS as he is widely known was also a ""chai wala"" before making his foray in politics. There is no one in the AIADMK at present who can match either MGR or Jayalalithaa both of whom held sway over the masses for four decades. In the medium to long term there might be a reconfiguration in Tamil Nadu's politics with the BJP being the primary beneficiary. The Lotus party at the helm of affairs at the centre has to counter the strong reservation that the people of Tamil Nadu have for the Hindutva agenda. The Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu follow the ideals of Periyar or E V Ramaswamy who propagated the principles of rationalism, self- respect, women's rights and eradication of caste. He opposed the exploitation and marginalisation of non-Brahmins in South India. His work has greatly revolutionised Tamil society and significantly removed caste-based discrimination. The BJP needs to put on its thinking cap in allaying the apprehensions of the people of the southern state contributing a sizeable 39 seats to the Lok Sabha.( T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal)"

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