Panneerselvam: A loyalist who enjoys Amma's confidence

V Jagannathan   |  Chennai


O. Panneerselvam, who Monday became Tamil Nadu's chief minister for a second time in 13 years, is a man of few words who took to politics after trying his hand in farming.

It was his proximity to then Lok Sabha member T.T.V. Dinakaran, a nephew of Jayalalithaa's confidante V.K. Sasikala, that sent his political fortunes soaring in the AIADMK.

In an uncertain political world, Jayalalithaa saw him as a staunch loyalist. That is why she made him the chief minister in 2001, in similar circumstances, before she herself bounced back to power.

The 63-year-old Panneerselvam represents Bodinayakanur constituency in the southern district of Theni where he still owns a tea stall now run by his relatives.

Born in 1951 in Periayakulam in Theni, Panneerselvam tried his hand in farming after becoming a graduate but later ventured into politics.

His first success came in 1996 when he was elected the chairman of the Periyakulam Municipality.

OPS, as he is known in the AIADMK, maintains a low profile.

Always sporting holy ash and vermilion on his forehead, Panneerselvam, a father of three, is widely seen as a rarity in politics.

"He is very approachable and soft spoken. He does not carry any airs despite being a senior minister in the government," a Tamil Nadu lawmaker from an opposition party told IANS.

A finance department official added: "He is very gentle. Not a hard task master. He is a man of few words."

Panneerselvam's big break came when he was elected to the assembly in 2001 from Periakulam by a good margin and was made the revenue minister by Jayalalithaa.

In September 2001, he became the chief minister as a stopgap arrangement as Jayalalithaa was forced to step down following a legal tangle.

Panneerselvam was unfazed when he was criticised as a puppet chief minister. He was reluctant initially to sign official files as the chief minister. He refused to occupy the chief minister's chair.

In 2002, when Jayalalithaa became the chief minister again, he was made the minister for public works department.

In 2006, he was re-elected from Periyakulam and was the leader of the opposition when the AIADMK lost the elections.

In 2011, contesting from Bodinayakanur, he won with an handsome margin and was elevated as the finance minister.

Panneerselvam is the fourth person from the AIADMK to become Tamil Nadu's chief minister -- after founder leader M.G. Ramachandran or MGR, who died in 1987, his wife Janaki and Jayalalithaa.

The late V.R. Nedunchezhiyan was an acting chief minister for a brief period in the 1980s.

Panneerselvam was elected leader of the AIADMK legislature party Sunday evening, hours after he called on Jayalalithaa in the Bangalore Central Jail.

A special court in Bangalore Saturday sentenced Jayalalithaa to four years in prison and fined her Rs.100 crore for amassing wealth illegally when she was the chief minister in 1991-96. - IANS