The public relations (PR) activities—being carried out to project Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam as charismatic leaders—have seen a steady increase in the past several months. The late chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalitha, was known for not nurturing any second rung leadership in the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which has left a vacuum in the party after her sudden demise.
The recent foreign visits of the CM and the deputy CM seem to have been meticulously planned with the intension of projecting them as the undisputed leaders of the party.
The state of Tamil Nadu is known to have had many “charismatic” leaders including K Kamaraj of the Congress, C N Annadurai, M Karunanidhi (both from Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam [DMK]), M G Ramachandran (popularly known as MGR) and J Jayalalitha (both from AIADMK). However, after Jayalalitha’s demise, the AIADMK is struggling to cash on the popularity of its leaders the way it had done before.
THE RISE OF EPS
Palaniswami, also known as EPS, won his first Assembly election in 1989 and then in 1991. After a gap of two decades, he came back to the house in 2011 and was made a minister of highways and small ports. He climbed up the ranks and occupied the third position in the party in 2016—next to Jayalalitha and Panneerselvam or OPS. After OPS’s rebellion, EPS was chosen for the top post—of the chief minister—in a move to keep the caste equations intact.
The video of him crawling to seek the blessings of the now jailed V K Sasikala (Jayalalitha’s aide) is still used to mock EPS.
However, after a series of events, EPS and OPS ended up joining hands. This development reportedly took place following the advice of a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) man, S Gurumurthy.
The low-profile leader, after becoming the CM, debuted on the micro blogging site Twitter in March 2017. He has 231K followers now. However, political observers feel that lack of oratory skills, public appeal and command remains a hindrance for the leader.
Then came the first overseas visit of the CM along with his Cabinet colleagues and administrative delegation. He visited United Kingdom, United States of America and Dubai between August 10 and September 10. The visit was termed “a milestone” by the government and the party. A government press release claimed that the CM had managed to attract an investment of Rs 8,835 crore through memoranda of understanding (MoUs) from 41 companies, which could generate around 35,520 jobs in the state.
Adding to the list of political leaders Dr MGR, Dr Kalaignar (M Karunanidhi), Dr Amma (J Jayalalitha), EPS, too, was awarded honorary doctorate by Dr MGR Deemed University—run by A C Shanmugam, the AIADMK candidate for Vellore Lok Sabha constituency.
OPS More Familiar?
Political experts say that the deputy CM is far more familiar with the party cadres and the voters, as he was made CM thrice—even if for short stints. Jayalalitha had picked him for the post twice, in 2001 and 2014, while his third tenure came after the former’s death in 2016. He was selected for the post when Jayalalitha was unable to contest in 2001 and had to relinquish office after being convicted in the disproportionate assets case in 2014. His growth in a very short period is attributed as a reward to the Mukkulathor community, which traditionally supports the AIADMK.
During his first two stints, Jayalalitha retained the power, while OPS remained a mere puppet, according to political commentators. He had even sought her blessings by falling at her feet before taking oath, which had caught many by shock and surprise. During his latest stint, it was the dominance of Sasikala and TTV Dhinakaran, which kept making the news.
After his foreign trip with EPS, OPS returned with an array of awards. The deputy CM received the ‘Rising Star of the Year, Asia’ award from American Multi-Ethnic Coalition (a Right-wing group), Thanga Tamil Magan (Golden Sons of Tamil Nadu) from Chicago Tamil Union, Panbin Sigaram (literally translated as ‘a man with great character’) from Sree Meenakshi Temple, Houston as well as the Mahatma Gandhi Medallion of Excellence award. November 14 was also proclaimed as the OPS day in Pearland by Mayor Tom Reid.
OPS, who had been known as the second fiddle for a long time, receiving so many awards from lesser known organisations in the US raised several eyebrows, even among the party cadres. The proximity OPS with RSS and BJP leadership is well-known and is reportedly protecting him from the disqualification case.
PROJECTION OF LEADERS
The AIADMK has had leaders whose fans have turned into party cadres. MGR was known for his accommodating attitude towards the elderly, party cadres and fans, while Jayalalitha was known for her autocratic approach which yielded huge success to her. But experts feel that the same attitude has left the party and the government bereft of any leaders.
The party, however, has managed to keep the flock together by overcoming the challenge posed by a more charismatic TTV Dhinakaran whose breakaway faction is continuing to deteriorate.