The transfer of office from O. Panneerselvam to V.K. Sasikala, 60, appears smooth with the AIADMK legislature party unanimously choosing the close aide of the late party chief and chief minister, J. Jayalalithaa, who was elected party general secretary after her death, as the legislature party leader and proposing her name for the chief minister’s post on Sunday. In a parliamentary democracy, the prerogative of electing their legislature party leader lies with the MLAs. Yet the sudden move to replace Panneerselvam, who AIADMK MLAs elected to lead the government two months ago, raises questions. Panneerselvam, a four-time MLA with extensive ministerial experience, was also Jayalalithaa’s nominee to the CM’s post whenever she had to step down in the past. In her public statement on Sunday, Sasikala said it was Panneerselvam who insisted that she take over his place. The outgoing CM has not offered any explanation, only citing “personal reasons” in his resignation letter to the governor.
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The abruptness of Sasikala’s elevation to the CM’s office and the lack of explanation from the AIADMK about the need for a leadership change has caused unease in many quarters. The biggest challenge before the new chief minister, therefore, will be to convince the sceptics that the trust that her party has reposed in her is deserved. She will also need to get elected as an MLA in the next six months. Another pressing worry, arguably, would be the court cases, the outcome of which can potentially upset the trajectory she and the AIADMK may have charted out for the rest of the assembly’s term. With the AIADMK in a comfortable majority and elections more than four years away, it is important, also, that the message goes out that the administration is in firm hands.
The people of Tamil Nadu have traditionally given clear verdicts and strong governments have been a feature of the state. The enormous gains it has made in education, health, agriculture, industrialisation have a lot to do with the quality of political and administrative leadership since Independence. Evidence suggests that the state’s gains in social sectors have plateaued in recent years. The recent Jallikattu unrest points to the simmering discontent among the youth, whose aspirations are let down by the shrinking employment opportunities. The farm distress in the wake of two years of successive drought can further this discontent. These are challenging times even for the most seasoned politician and administrator. Sasikala has her task cut out for her.
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