THE LOYALIST’S TURN
His years as a stalwart of Jayalalithaa’s naalvar ani (four-man army) have paid Edappadi K. Palanisamy, 62, rich dividends. He was also second in command and PWD minister in the Pannerselvam cabinet. Palanisamy is with Sasikala now and is her man for the chief minister’s post. No one from his Gounder community, also referred to as the Kongu Vellalar Gounders, traditional landowners and farmers from the western districts, has ever held the top post since P. Subbarayan who was chief minister of the erstwhile Madras Presidency (1926-1936).
Palanisamy’s electoral debut came in somewhat similar circumstances to what the AIADMK is facing now, split into two factions, one headed by party founder M.G. Ramachandran’s widow Janaki and the other by rebel J. Jayalalithaa. He joined the Jayalalithaa group and won the Edappadi assembly seat in the 1989 polls. He has won three of the five assembly polls he contested and was also Lok Sabha MP from Tiruchengode in 1998. He’s also said to have vast financial resources with MLA K.A. Sengottaiyan, a strongman from the western districts, serving as a mentor. Which maybe why he was chosen, as someone who can stand up to the Thevars and even take on Panneerselvam if it comes to the crunch.
The soft-spoken Palanisamy’s sway in the Gounderdominated western districts was the most important factor that tilted the scales in favour of the AIADMK in the 2016 polls. The party won 45 of the 57 seats from here. In his home district, Salem, the party won 10 of the 11 seats.
While rallying the MLAs from western Tamil Nadu may be his primary task, Palanisamy will have many other challenges: to ensure there is no infighting in the Gounder group and also deal with the extended Sasikala family. Like most other AIADMK leaderministers, he too comes with baggage. Corruption charges, publicised or not, could prove to be a burden.
THE NOMINEE Palanisamy talks to the media in Chennai after being elected legislature party leader