The evolution of Edappadi Palaniswami

Published : Nov 04, 2019 11:44 am | By: M D Sridharan

Having assumed office at a most turbulent time, Edapaadi Palaniswami has not only steered the party but also established himself as an undisputed powerful leader of AIADMK.

Winning the bypolls for the two assembly seats in Nanguneri and Vikravaandi in Tamil Nadu by the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has heralded a new beginning for AIADMK under the leadership of Edappadi K. Palaniswami, popularly called as EPS. The victory has certainly helped EPS to ascertain his leadership not only within the party but also as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

It is undoubtedly a sign that the people of Tamil Nadu have begun to repose faith on his governance.  While, the victory can be considered as a mark of people’s acceptance of  Edappadi K. Palaniswami as a  leader of substance and the results indeed has cast a doubt over the much acclaimed claims of the opposition leader and the President of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), M K Stalin.

Since the demise of the two stalwarts of Tamil Nadu politics, the DMK patriarch  M Karunanidhi and the AIADMK supermo J Jayalalithaa, M K Stalin has been portrayed as the next tallest leader in Tamil Nadu. Incidentally, six months back Stalin led the DMK to a rousing victory in the Lok Sabha elections, successfully campaigning against both the centre and the ruling AIADMK. Stalin raised questions over the centre’s dominant role and the interference in the AIADMK rule. He also accused the EPS government as the puppet regime and claimed that the people of Tamil Nadu were fed up with AIADMK. DMK alliance won a whopping 37 seats out of the contested 38. DMK’s MK Stalin matched what  Late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and AIADMK supermo achieved in 2015 Lok Sabha election winning 37 seats out of 39.  While, Jayalalithaa contested all alone Stalin formed alliance with eight parties in which Congress was a major ally. The DMK, itself contested in only 20 seats while the Congress contested in 10.  Considering the fact the DMK and Stalin which failed to win a single seat in 2014, the victory was hailed as a remarkable achievement of M K Stalin, As  the results exceeded the party's own expectations, it was very well projected that the future belong to  DMK and it is the beginning of the end for AIADMK.   

The DMK’s landslide win is primarily attributed to the strong and sustained anti-BJP propaganda carried out meticulously by the DMK for the last couple of years.  As a result, the BJP fared poorly by losing all five of its candidates. The strong anti-Modi smear campaign in the state was deliberately built up by the DMK and they left no stones unturned and used every single opportunity to attack the BJP and Modi. In fact the DMK successfully spread the message that the BJP government at the Centre has neglected the State's interests.

The anti –BJP campaign was so powerful that the way the campaign was carried out with hate speeches and communal divide, the DMK instilled fear in the minds of the minorities that the rising of the Saffron party in Tamil Nadu meant danger to their own survival in the state. They simply ensured that the minorities stay away from BJP. Despite, BJP’s Hindutva base, the party could not penetrate and make an impact.  In a way, BJP’s ambitions of making inroads in the state also received a reality check. 

Despite stitching a rainbow alliance AIADMK came a cropper winning just a solitary seat from Thenni. The dismal performance by the AIADMK once again became the talking point as political analysts predicted the end of AIADMK. But, the fact remained that then the AIADMK had to face an even more crucial test of saving its own government. The bypolls for 22 assembly seats due to the disqualification of 18 AIADMK MLAs, were held along with the Lok Sabha polls.

The AIADMK managed to salvage its pride by winning 9 seats out of 22 which was considered very crucial for the survival of the EPS government as it was surviving on a wafer-thin majority. But, it was Palaniswami’s strategy to focus more on the Assembly seats than on the Parliament seats that ensured the victory of nine seats and his continuing in office.  Further, amidst hectic factional fighting within the AIADMK, the spirited performance in the bypolls was laudable that it was achieved despite the void left by the late undisputed leader J Jayalalithaa.  Indeed, the results gave EPS the much needed relief and feel more secure with over two years of power remaining.

Bypolls Victory

The recent victories further strengthen the EPS government and also the huge margin of the victory proved that EPS is capable of delivering. The margin of votes that the AIADMK secured in both Nanguneri and Vikravaandi has helped EPS to ensure that he is emerging as the undisputed leader of AIADMK.

On the other hand for the DMK-Congress combine, the slide that began in the Vellore Lok Sabha constituency simply continued. Soon after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, by-poll to the Vellore constituency was held in August, 2019, which was countermanded following the seizure of a large amount of cash distributed by the DMK candidate. Incidentally, it was Dr. Kadirvel, son of Durai Murugan - one of DMK’s most senior leaders, who contested from Vellore Lok Sabha seat.  Though AIADMK lost that too, it was a pitched battle as the AIADMK put up a great show counter attacking the DMK’s false propaganda. It was very much evident that the AIADMK was immensely successful in taking it to the people about DMK’s attempt to malign both the centre and the state leadership as DMK managed to win the Vellore Lok Sabha seat by a slender margin of 8000 votes as against the fact that most of the DMK-Congress candidates won with massive margins in 38 constituencies in the May, 2019, Lok Sabha election.

DMK managed to scrape through mainly because of sizable minority population of Vellore. In fact it was an eye opener for DMK and the diminishing appeal of M K Stalin. In the run-up to the bypolls to the two Assembly constituencies in Nanguneri and Vikravaandi, Durai Murugan, asserted that the byelections would be an indicator of what was in store in the 2021 general election for Tamil Nadu. Now, with AIADMK winning both the seats with a massive margin against the DMK candidate in a straight fight, political observers raise the question over Stalin’s  leadership.

After the resounding victories, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami thanked the voters of Nanguneri and Vikravandi assembly constituencies and said the two by-polls are historic. “As claimed by the opposition parties that the bypolls to Nanguneri and Vikravandi are a forerunner to the 2021 Assembly elections and AIADMK has won in these by-elections and the winning streak will continue in the ensuing local body elections,”

A leader in his own right

Edapadi Palanisamy assumed office at one of the most turbulent times in the history of AIADMK.  Soon after the passing away of the former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, the AIADMK witnessed several factional fights in its rank and file with the former Chief Minister O Pannerselvam breaking away from the Sasikala camp and threatened to split the AIADMK.

The rudderless phase of the AIADMK started with the hospitalisation of J Jayalalithaa and her subsequent demise, which created vacuum at the top. Though, O Panneerselvam was immediately made the interim Chief Minister, the infighting started with the rising ambitions of Sasikala. Subsequently, when O Panneerselvam broke away it led to many speculations and also brought to fore the inclinations of many leaders to take over AIADMK.

 Then came the disqualification of Sasikala with the Supreme Court verdict condemning her in the disproportionate assets case and sent to the Parappana Agrahara jail in Bengaluru. Out of the blue, she passed on the mantle to her nephew T T  V Dinakaran, much to the displeasure of many AIADMK old guards. Suddenly, the selection of Edappadi Palaniswami for the top job emerged. By choosing EPS for the coveted post of Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, the Sasikala clan hoped to keep him as a puppet and dominate both the government as well as the party. But, the politician in EPS sensed the signals early and acted wisely according to the situation.

Right from the time his ascension to the top job, EPS had to carefully wade through the troubled waters of the AIADMK and emerge a clear winner. In the last two years as Chief Minister, EPS has to deftly handle various issues and he has slowly and steadily consolidated his position in the party to a status of an undisputed leader. He has successfully managed to ascertain his grip over the party and the government without quite having to tread Jayalalithaa’s  dictatorial path to assert his control and authority but with his unique and natural demeanour. In the process EPS has earned the distinction of being a Chief Minister without any frills and easily approachable.

In fact it was O Panneerselvam who was in the in the driver’s seat after Jayalalithaa’s demise and he was also in the good books of Prime Minister Modi and his lieutenant Amit Shah. But all that changed dramatically with the entry of EPS. Soon after assuming office, EPS had to face the trust vote in the Assembly and win over the ire of the rival OPS faction along with the main opposition DMK. EPS also sensed the threats posed by TTV Dinakaran who at one stage threatened to bring the reins of AIADMK under his control and had to clearly steer away from him. EPS had to fight a fierce battle against T T V Dinakaran. The merger of the OPS faction and subsequent ousting of Sasikala were seen as the masterstroke by EPS. Subsequently, he worked out a formula to merge the O Panneerselvam faction and also offered him the Deputy Chief Minister post to him.

From the time he entered politics in the 1980s, Edapadi Palanisami has remained as a staunch loyalist of the late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.  When the party suffered a split after the demise of the legendary M.G. Ramachandran in 1987, EPS,   threw his weight behind Jayalalithaa. He was duly rewarded by Jayalalithaa with a ticket to contest in the rural Edappadi constituency in the 1989 elections. He tasted success in his maiden attempt and retained the seat in the 1991 elections. However, he lost in the 2006 elections. But, he wrested the seat for the third time in 2011. Again in May 2016 elections, he contested from Edappadi and romped home with a whopping margin of 42,022 votes over his nearest PMK rival. He was inducted into the Cabinet as State Highways and Minor Ports Minister. In 2016, in Palaniswami not only won his seat comfortably, but he was also instrumental in steering the AIADMK to a clean sweep in Salem district, winning 10 of the 11 Assembly constituencies. In recognition of this striking show, Jayalalithaa rewarded him with the powerful PWD.

He was part of Jayalalithaa’s  four-member kitchen cabinet from 2011-16 along with  O. Panneerselvam and former ministers Natham R. Viswanathan and R. Vaithilingam.  At the time of assuming office, he was ranked number three in Jaya’s Cabinet.

Though it was O Panneerselvam who first openly revolted against Sasikala camp and also was in a position to call all the shots, he was not forceful enough to convert it to his advantage and emerge as a dynamic leader. But EPS’ deft handling of the administration as well as the senior leaders in the party, in the post-Jayalalithaa era has been so complete. Now, clearly EPS has not only asserted his position in the AIADMK succession battle but also proved his mettle as the prominent and dominant figure in the AIADMK.

The evolution of  Edappadi Palaniswami

The transformation of an unassuming party worker in to a powerful leader has indeed been phenomenal. It is true that the circumstances have made him the Chief Minister, but he is not a reluctant leader. The rise of Palaniswami as the next most powerful and trusted leader has been assiduously built in his little over two years stint as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

In the last two and half years since he was made the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in February 17, 2017, a lot has happened in AIADMK.   Three prominent personalities of AIADMK who could have possibly posed threat to EPS are now not in political limelight. First, O Panneerselvam faded into insignificance politically and has now become his deputy. Second, the now incarcerated Sasikala is no more a force to reckon with. TTV, his once benefactor, is now politically isolated as all the key people of his party AMMK is leaving one by one. Today, not only EPS is well ensconced in the throne but also got both the government and the party in his grip. EPS has clearly proved his political acumen and knows when and how to lie low, gain ground and rise eventually.

It looks like that EPS followed a simple dictum. Given the situation the party was in when he took over, EPS sensed that he is the captain of the shaky ship in a choppy sea and made it very clear to his colleagues that if they pull him down, they all will sink together. But, if they stay with him, collectively they can ride out the storm. Indeed, the survival plan worked to near perfection and EPS continues to remain at the top for the last two and half years despite many desperate attempts by MK Stalin to topple the government. Now, the signs are positive for him to complete the remaining term without any hassle.

With the state having witnessed multiple upheavals in the last few years and also EPS government has been severely criticised for acting as per the whims of the BJP government at the Centre. Further, some of the policies of the state have also been questioned. But, overall the data shows that EPS has not done badly when it comes to governance. While keeping alive most of the welfare measures that endeared Jayalalithaa to the poor, EPS also focused on industrial development.

He successfully conducted the second  Global Investors’ Meet (GIM) and got a commitment of 3 lakh crore which in terms of volume surpassed GIM 1.0. Moreover, unlike Jayalalithaa, well known for her dictum, many bureaucrats find it easy to approach EPS. They point out that the EPS listens carefully, delegates and takes quick decisions.

He is slowly beginning to shed his image of a humble CM from the Western district of Tamil Nadu, in to a powerful leader, His recent trips to UK, USA and Dubai and dressed in suit, boot and tie are clear indicators of his emerging appeal. Though his focus to put Tamil Nadu back in the path of industrial growth needs appreciation, it is also interesting to note that no Tamil Nadu CM had undertaken foreign trips to woo investors in at least the last two decades.

Despite the fact that the post-Jayalalithaa era has given rise to multiple centres of power and influence in AIADMK,  EPS has stood the test of time.    Today, EPS has come a long way from being a tentative leader to become a confident Chief Minister and also a crafty politician. It looks like that in 2021, EPS will give a tougher fight to M K Stalin than anyone would have thought.




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