A month after the Supreme Court’s stamp of approval over his leadership, Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) on Tuesday formally graduated as its General Secretary, after being the interim general secretary of the 50-year old organisation for the past seven months.
On Tuesday, the Madras High Court rejected the pleas of EPS’ rival leader O Panneerselvam and his aides against the July 11, 2022 AIADMK general council resolutions as well as the conduct of the general secretary election, announced in the wake of the February 23 SC verdict allowing him to continue as the party’s interim chief.
AIADMK founder and the late chief minister M G Ramachandran was the party’s first general secretary after he founded it in 1972. The late CM J Jayalalithaa was general secretary from 1989 to 2016 till her death. Her confidante VK Sasikala was elected interim general secretary post Jayalalithaa’s demise but she was later convicted and sentenced to a 4 year prison term in a graft case.
Palaniswami has come a long way in the AIADMK, now the main opposition party and one that has ruled Tamil Nadu for over three decades.
Beginning his political career as a branch secretary in 1974 at Siluvampalayam in Salem District, Palaniswami gradually rose through the ranks to become the interim party chief and he has held various party positions including that of district secretary and party headquarters secretary. He belongs to the Gounder community, dominant in western Tamil Nadu.
In 1989, when the party split following founder M G Ramachandran’s death, he threw his weight behind the late Jayalalithaa and was first elected as a legislator in the polls held that year.
During that time, Panneerselvam was with the rival camp, and pointing to this, Palaniswami had earlier said the ousted leader was neither loyal to Amma (as Jayalalithaa was addressed), nor to the party.
Palaniswami was elected again in 1991 to the Assembly and became a Minister in 2011. Again in 2016, he not only found a place in the Jayalalithaa Cabinet, but was also among her chosen small group of leaders whom the late matriarch consulted often on party matters.
A grass-roots level leader, 68-year old Palaniswami’s growth in the party in a career spanning close to 50 years has been steady. He was also elected to the Lok Sabha in 1998.
Palaniswami’s first crucial forward leap came after the May 2016 Assembly elections when Jayalalithaa handed him the important Public Works portfolio besides Highways and Minor Ports that he had held even before.
After Panneerselvam’s revolt in early 2017, Palaniswami seized the opportunity and sided with Sasikala who picked him as her choice to be the chief minister. Once in the saddle, Palaniswami worked to cement his position and proved his mettle as an able administrator both in the party and government and Panneerselvam turned out to be a figurehead.
Palaniswami carefully built his image as a leader from a humble background, from a farming family and often appeared in a green turban used by farmers during election campaigns. He has also ensured that none from his immediate family were in party posts and effectively targets the DMK for ‘dynasty politics’.
Even during the campaign for the last year’s Assembly polls, it was Palaniswami who stole the show. Though the AIADMK lost power, it won hands down in Palaniswami’s home turf of western region which helped him further consolidate his position in the party.
Since then, there was no looking back and continuous efforts to expand his support base among functionaries eventually resulted in his elevation as interim party chief and the general secretary on Tuesday.
On the other hand, the party’s performance in the 2021 Assembly polls in southern districts and the Theni region, home to Panneerselvam, was dismal.
The ousted leader was hence prompted to accept a junior role as Deputy Leader in the Assembly while Palaniswami was chosen the Leader of Opposition in 2021.
Panneerselvam and his son, Lok Sabha MP P Ravindhranath lauding DMK on a number of occasions was also a contributory factor that led to OPS’ ouster from the party in the July 11 general council, the party’s highest decision making body.
Palaniswami’s organising skills could be gauged from the fact that a big chunk of Panneerselvam’s followers including the heavyweight K P Munusamy and former Minister K Pandiarajan did not hesitate to shift loyalty some time ago.