Chennai: Forced by circumstances to fill her shoes for a second time, O Panneerselvam has an unenviable task of heading the Tamil Nadu cabinet in the wake of conviction and jailing of AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa.
From humble origins as a farmer and tea shop owner to Fort St George, the seat of power in Tamil Nadu, he has travelled a path of unexpected twists and turns. ‘OPS’, as the new Chief Minister is called in political circles, is taking over in troubled times for his party and its unquestioned chief Jayalalithaa exactly in the same situation that had unfolded 13 years ago.
Jayalalithaa had sprung a surprise by handpicking him to fill her shoes in 2001 when she had to step down due to her conviction in TANSI land scam case. But this time, following her conviction, it was more or less clear he was leading the race among his colleagues, considering his unflinching loyalty to Jayalalithaa that even earned him the sobriquet ‘Mr.Faithful.’
Incidentally, the politician had then chosen not to function from the chair on which his ‘revered’ leader sat while he performed the role of night watchman. He duly vacated the post after Jayalalithaa was acquitted in the case.
Representing Bodinayakanur Assembly constituency in Theni District in the current assembly, Pannerselvam has risen from humble origins. His family still owns a tea stall he once ran. He was also an agriculturist and began his political career when he was elected to Periyakulam Municipality. He went on to become its Chairman during 1996-2001. A graduate, he was elected to the state Assembly in the 2001 elections and straightaway was made Revenue Minister by Jayalalithaa. Panneerselvam also served as leader of the AIADMK legislative party and Leader of the Opposition for about two weeks after the party lost the Assembly elections in May 2006.