OPS camp draws more blood; Minister, 2 MPs join

OPS camp draws more blood; Minister, 2 MPs join
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam today drew more blood from the Sasikala camp in the battle for power with a minister, two Lok Sabha MPs and the AIADMK spokesperson joining him while she issued a veiled warning that patience was "wearing thin" on not being sworn in.

With leaders coming under pressure from party cadres and apparent public sentiment against V K Sasikala, School Education Minister K Pandiarajan, P R Sundaram and K Ashok Kumar, both MPs, switched over to the chief minister's camp in the morning pledging their support.

In the evening, party veteran, spokesman and minister in the MGR Cabinet C Ponnaiyan drove to the chief minister's residence and offered his support. A former minister M M Rajendra Prasad also joined the chief minister's camp.

"The leadership of the party and government should be in good hands and that is Panneerselvam who was trusted thrice by Jayalalithaa to be chief minister. All of us should work towards this goal," he told the cadres with Panneerselvam by his side at the chief minister's residence where they received him amid thunderous applause.

Rattled by the desertions, Sasikala, who has been elected the leader of the AIADMK legislature party, drove to the luxury resort, 100 km from here, in an attempt to prevent the MLAs who have been put up there for the last three days from switching sides.

K A Sengottaiyan, who was appointed the presidium chairman after the removal of Madhusudhanan, told reporters after Sasikala's meeting with the MLAs that all the MLAs have taken a pledge that they will back her to the hilt till she becomes chief minister.

Kept on wait, Sasikala wrote a letter to Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao, asking him to take steps immediately to swear her in at the earliest. She said she was ready to parade the party MLAs supporting her before him.

She told him she had on Thursday submitted an "elaborate presentation to invite me to form the government as I have absolute majority," besides the original letter and true copy of the resolution electing her as the AIADMK Legislature party leader.

Sasikala said she believed that the Governor would "act immediately to save the sovereignty of the Constitution, democracy and the interest" of Tamil Nadu.

Meeting partymen at her residence, Sasikala also gave a veiled warning over the "delay" in being sworn in and said, "we are being patient because of our belief in fairness and trust in democracy. But we can be patient only to a limit but beyond that we will decide what we will do."

Attacking Sasikala for her remarks, Rajya Sabha MP Dr V Maitreyan said attempts were being made to create law and order problems in Tamil Nadu and urged the union home minister to take steps to ensure peace.

Pandiarajan, the suave face of the AIADMK, arrived at the Greenways Road residence of Panneerselvam with his supporters and joined his group in the presence of other dissident leaders, including former Minister K P Munsamy and Rajya Sabha MP V Maithreyan. "My belief is that here is the man who has captured the hearts of the masses. Amma's legacy will continue to rest on his able shoulders and that is the reason I am here," Pandiarajan said. "We are here as followers of Puratchi Thalaivi Amma," he said, adding that the "spirit of the masses" would carry the party through.

"This is the voice of the collective," he said, referring to support for Panneerselvam. "Every other MP and MLA will see the writing on the wall and will be right here," Pandiarajan said to a question, he said "we have no doubt about Governor's impartiality." Thanking Pandiarajan, the Chief Minister, in a veiled attack on Sasikala and her family, said "let us work and stop the party and government slipping into the hands of a family."

In her address to party workers at Poes Garden residence, Sasikala assured them that the party will come out victorious in its present hour of crisis. "It is my duty to lead the party and government. The manoeuvring of a few people cannot hurt this mass movement which has 1.5 crore supporters left behind by Amma (Jayalalithaa)," she said.

The party workers were "everything" for her and Jayalalithaa had died with the confidence "I will protect the party and the government," she added. She said Jayalalithaa had steered the party to great heights amidst a lot of challenges and this had resulted in AIADMK becoming the third largest one in the Parliament.

AIADMK was a "strong fort" which cannot be "shaken" by anybody, Sasikala said, and added: "Amma is with us and identifying the detractors. With the support of 1.5 crore supporters, those trying to divide us will fail," she asserted.
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