O. Panneerselvam, Tamil Nadu’s new Chief Minister, still owns a tea stall in his village that is run by his relatives.
A man of few words, Panneerselvam catalpulted into the political landscape by being an interim Chief Minister twice — first in 2001, when J. Jayalalithaa was disqualified by the Supreme Court in a land deal, and again in 2014 when she was jailed for corruption.
And on the third occasion, the son of a farmer became the fulltime Chief Minister of the sprawling state after Jayalalithaa died on Monday night after a long and bitter battle for life.
Many in Tamil Nadu say he owes his claimancy to the post to his unflinching loyalty to “Amma” — as Jayalalithaa was popularly called by her passionate fans, including Panneerselvam.
AIDMK MLAs unanimously pledged their support to Panneerselvam following the death of Jayalalithaa in a hospital here. He was took oath early on Tuesday.
Political pundits believe that this time around Panneerselvam seems to be a compromise candidate for the AIADMK that returned to power in the May election with a huge majority in the assembly.
Paneerelvam faces many challenges in an uncertain world of Dravidian politics.
The biggest would be to hold the AIADMK flock together after the death of its charismatic leader and take other senior ministers along with him.
He, many feel, may not be able to match to the gravitas of Jayalalithaa that held her millions of followers together during her nearly three decades as a politician and a leader of masses.
The new Chief Minister partly owes his political fortunes in the AIADMK to his proximity to former Lok Sabha member T.T.V. Dinakaran, a nephew of Jayalalithaa’s confidante V.K. Sasikala.
Panneerselvam represents Bodinayakanur constituency in the southern district of Theni where he opened a tea stall called “PV Canteen”. The eatery is now run by his brother in the 80s who has renamed it “Rosie Canteen”.
Born in 1951 in Periayakulam in Theni, he also tried his hand in farming before venturing into politics. His first success came in 1996 when he was elected the chairman of the Periyakulam Municipality.
Also known as OPS in the AIADMK, Panneerselvam always sports holy ash and vermilion on his forehead.
A father of three, Panneerselvam’s big break came when he was elected to the assembly in 2001 from Periakulam. Jayalalithaa made him the Revenue Minister.
In September 2001, when he became the interim Chief Minister, Panneerselvam was criticised as a puppet. He famously refused to occupy the Chief Minister’s chair.
He continued to be loyal to “Amma” and handled all key portfolios since October 11, 2016, weeks after Jayalalithaa was admitted to the Apollo Hospitals here.