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With Revolt, O Panneerselvam Is Having A Bit Of A Social Media Moment


Within an hour of O Panneerselvam declaring that he was coerced to quit as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, the habitually low-profile politician was having a bit of a social media moment. By midnight, he was the material of two trends on Twitter. Outside his home, supporters held up their phones to display memes and other "forwards" that aggrandized the 66-year-old as "thalaiva" or "leader". Others photoshopped him into characters played by superstar Rajinikanth.

On Twitter, "a people's survey" was commissioned for Mr Panneerselvam that asked participants to vote on whether he should remain in office.

To review and minimise his sudden revolt, VK Sasikala, who is slotted to replace him as Chief Minister, called an emergency meet of all AIADMK legislators at her home in Chennai's Poes Garden. It was here, through many years of living with J Jayalalithaa, that the 61-year-old became established as the politician's closest aide. After Ms Jayalalithaa died while she was still Chief Minister on December, Ms Sasikala has remained in the huge bungalow and been established as the power centre of the AIADMK.

This weekend, the AIADMK said that she had been chosen to head the government. Mr Panneerselvam sent his resignation to governor C Vidyasagar Rao and was named interim Chief Minister. The only delay on Ms Sasikala taking office appeared to be the absence of the Governor, who is now expected in Chennai tomorrow.

But the Supreme Court's announcement that it would deliver a verdict next week on a corruption case involving Ma Jayalalithaa and Ms Sasikala coincided with a surging public backlash to the AIADMK's plans. As political parties said the AIADMK should wait for the top court's judgement, on social media and offline, people said that they had not voted for Ms Sasikala when they re-elected the party last year nor did they want a novice to suddenly go from zero to 100 with the state's top job.

Ms Jayaalithaa's charisma, like her control of her party, was political gold. Worshipped by followers in part because of her welfare schemes that included free computers and mixer-grinders, the former movie star was the only lead on the AIADMK. Twice, when corruption charges forced her to take a break from office, she chose Mr Paneerselvam as her stand-in. Within hours of her death, Ms Sasikala ensured he was made Chief Minister again, operating on the assumption that like earlier, he would be content to serve as a place-holder.

Tonight, with a flair so far unexhibited, Mr Paneerselvam meditated for about 40 minutes at Ms Jayalalithaa's memorial on the beach before declaring that the party's plans were thrust upon him.