Chennai: Three years ago when the mantle of Chief Ministership fell on Edappadi K. Palaniswami skeptics said that his term would be short-lived. But today, it is not only clear that he will complete the term, taking his mentor J. Jayalalithaa’s mandate to its logical end but is also a contender for the Chief Minister’s throne in 2021.
So, how did the man from Salem emerge as a leader on his own right within the party? To put it succinctly it is hard work and perseverance. He was not bogged down by the criticisms that he had to face when he took over as Chief Minister or even later on and did not allow bickering within his party to weaken his position.
That he had come on his own and has consolidated his position in the AIADMK was evident when he returned from his maiden foreign tour - a 13-day visit to UK, USA and UAE. As he came out of the airport he not only seamlessly merge with the sea of party cadre welcoming him back home but also made every onlooker realise that he is their leader.
When he left abroad, Palanisami was considered a ‘lucky first among the many equals’ in the party. But as vignettes of his visit to various overseas establishments poured in, he had seemingly struck a chord with his cadre and supporters. For, man whom many called the ‘accidental Chief Minister,’ was hailed as ‘Revolutionary Leader’s Heir’ on his return.
In the special 80-page edition of AIADMK’s newspaper, ‘Namadhu Amma’ which was full of advertisements welcoming the Chief Minister back home, senior party leaders vied with one another to praise him and declare his pre-eminent position in the party. Even if ‘Namadhu Amma’ is not a staple household newspaper, no one is Chennai could have missed the ubiquitous wall poster with his photo accompanied by the legend: ‘he went/saw/conquered.’
Actually the real conquest had happened back home and it first evident from the grand reception he received at the airport in the wee hours of Tuesday. The throngs of flag waving cadre at that untimely hour was reminiscent of the crowds that gathered to welcome past AIADMK Chief Ministers back home - be it Jayalalithaa returning from Bengaluru in the recent past or
MGR coming home after medical treatment in 1985.
He never looked back after that and proved his mettle as one capable of leading a party in elections by ensuring that he won enough seats in the by-elections to the state Assembly, failing which would have spelt disaster for the AIADMK government. His managing to save the government from fall is an outstanding achievement, which also ensured that he continued as Chief Minister.
Winning adequate seats to keep the government going in that election in 2019 was significant because the results went against the prevailing political wave that helped the rival coalition sweep the Lok Sabha seats for which simultaneous elections were held. It was an anti-BJP wave in Tamil Nadu but Palaniswami did not let that affect his party’s prospects in the by-elections, which send across the message that the people have accepted him as the Chief Minister, as the man competent to lead the party left behind by Jayalalithaa.
Fighting the electoral war, too, he tackled the opposition quite impressively. When his rival M K Stalin, president of the DMK, ridiculed him as an ‘earthworm’, he turned the tables on him, saying that earthworm is the farmer’s friend. He, a real farmer, was proud of his calling and also described him as one.
It is perhaps an understanding of the farmers’ problems led to his taking an extremely bold decision to announce the Cauvery delta region in the state as ‘Protected Special Agricultural Zone (PSAZ)’, flummoxing the rival parties. It was one decision that went to prove that Palaniswami had his fingers on the pulse of the people in general and the farmers in particular. For, it was a decision that earned him encomiums from several quarters.
Also the way he faced the 2019 elections was praised by many. Not only he managed to cobble up a rainbow coalition, he easily roped in two
Chief Ministerial aspirants into his camp. Both PMK’s Anbumani Ramadoss and DMDK’s Vijayakanth had expressed their desire openly to lead the state. But they accepted Palanisamy as the Chief Minister and worked with him in the campaigns.
If his political acumen was on display in the deft manner in which he won the two by-elections to Vikravandi and Nanguneri constituencies, his popularity among the common people soared to the skies when he disbursed ‘Pongal gifts’, a scheme initiated by none less than Jayalalithaa herself, making the cash gift to `1000 per family and the sugarcane a full length one.
Finally, the recent achievement of Palaniswami was his party winning sizeable seats in the elections to the rural local bodies. AIADMK’s successful reach of voters in the rural pockets in the absence of the party’s charismatic leaders like M. G. Ramachandran (MGR) and Jayalalithaa happened under the leadership of Palanisamy and the victory on proves that he has won the hearts of the people, too....