India

Tamil Nadu Jayalalitha successor 'forced to quit'

O Panneerselvam Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Panneerselvam had been filling in as chief minister since October

India's southern state of Tamil Nadu is in crisis after the chief minister revolted against his successor.

On Sunday, the ruling AIADMK party announced Sasikala Natarajan would become the next leader, two months after the death of influential politician J Jayalalitha.

O Panneerselvam, who had taken over after her death, resigned on Sunday.

He now says he had to make way for Sasikala, who prefers to be known by her first name.

On Tuesday evening, Mr Panneerselvam visited a "monument" erected in honour of Jayalalitha at Marina beach in the capital, Chennai (Madras).

He meditated there for 40 minutes before announcing that Amma (mother), as Jayalalitha was popularly known, wanted him to be chief minister and that he had been compelled to put in his papers by a group of legislators on Sunday.

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Mr Panneerselvam told reporters that he was not "convinced of the decision" taken by this group, but "by then they had collected the signatures of the legislators" in favour of Sasikala, a close confidante of Jayalalitha.

For close to three decades, Sasikala, known as Chinnamma (younger mother) to her supporters, had been an almost permanent fixture in Jayalalitha's life, and was often seen with the former chief minister on public platforms.

"Finally she [Sasikala] held my hands and asked me to obey the decision, for the party, as she did when she insisted me to take the chief minister's post," he said.

Unclear

Mr Panneerselvam also said he was willing to withdraw his resignation "if people wanted".

Some leaders of the AIADMK, who owe allegiance to Sasikala, have criticised Mr Panneerselvam's remarks and called him a "betrayer".

Reports say he will need the support of at least 118 of his party's 134 lawmakers if he wants to continue as the leader of the government.

Correspondents say it is unclear whether Mr Panneerselvam will be able to garner the requisite support, although many people in the state have opposed Sasikala's elevation.

Tamil Nadu's main opposition DMK party also criticised the decision saying that "the people of Tamil Nadu did not vote for anyone from Jayalalitha's household to become chief minister".

The governor of Tamil Nadu will now have to take a call on whether to ask Mr Panneerselvam to demonstrate his support in the state assembly, or swear in Sasikala as the next chief minister.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Sasikala was appointed as the general secretary of the party after Jayalalitha's death

Never given any formal role by Jayalalitha in the party or the state government, Sasikala's role was always that of aide and confidante.

But analysts say her proximity to power allowed her and her extended family to wield huge influence in the party and the government.

Sasikala's influence over Jayalalitha also became the source of intense media speculation and tabloid gossip.

They also faced corruption charges together. A Karnataka high court order in 2015, which cleared them of involvement in a corruption scandal, paved the way for Jayalalitha's return to power after a setback in September 2014 when a trial court found them guilty of corruption.

India's Supreme Court has heard an appeal in the case, and is expected to issue a verdict next week.

If convicted, Sasikala will not be allowed to hold public office for six years.