It was another day of high drama in Tamil Nadu
Struggling to keep her flock of MLAs together after desertion by 10 MPs to rival O Panneerselvam camp, AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala on Sunday trashed the allegation that they have been held “hostage” at a resort.
Sasikala, who is locked in a fierce battle of attrition with caretaker Chief Minister Panneerselvam, said the MLAs were staying at the resort near here of their own accord and that they were “free”.
Panneerselvam, however, claimed the MLAs were held there against their will and “tortured” and sought their “release”.
Addressing reporters at the resort, Sasikala alleged the MLAs have been receiving threats that their children will be abducted, but undeterred, they have chosen to stay there and asked their relatives to take care of them.
“It shows their dedication to this movement. I was moved.. they (all the MLAs) are keen that there should not be slightest impediment to AIADMK and the government,” she said.
Alleging that those who had defected and political rivals were “spreading falsehood” that the MLAs were being held hostage, the AIADMK chief insisted that neither their free movement nor their freedom of expression had been hindered and asked the journalists to “see it for yourselves.” “They are in touch with their families over phone”, she said.
Addressing the MLAs at the resort, which she visited for the second time in two days, Sasikala said,”You 129 MLAs are like an ocean. None can contain it by building a check dam. No efforts will destabilise this government. None can hurt us and there is no need to fear.”
Sasikala, who had earlier in the day observed that it was “very difficult” to be a woman in politics, said there were efforts to “intimidate” her as she was a woman, but asserted she would not be cowed down.
The AIADMK supremo turned misty-eyed while referring to her mentor and former Chief Minister the late J Jayalalithaa and vowed to protect the party nurtured by her long-time friend, saying “I will give my life for this cause”.
Panneerselvam hit out at Sasikala, saying she was shedding “crocodile tears” and demanded that they be “released”.
“Let her release them so they could go to their respective consitutencies to meet the people and take a good decision,” he told reporters after Sasikala’s meeting with the legislators.
Calling himself a “staunch loyalist” of Jayalalithaa, he said “In the last 20 years not Amma (Jayalalithaa) criticised me not even once.”
Earlier in the day, support grew Panneerselvam, locked in a bruising feud with Sasikala for power, with five more MPs crossing over to his camp.
Four Lok Sabha MPs–Jaisingh Thiyagaraj Natterjee (Tuticorin), Senguttuvan (Vellore), R P Marutharaja (Perambalur) and S Rajendran (Villupuram) met Panneerselvam at his Greenways residence this morning and pledged support to him, taking the number of MPs backing him in the fight to 10.
Rajya Sabha MP R Lakshmanan also switched over to the Panneerselvam camp, provoking an embattled Sasikala to sack him as the party’s Villupuram (North) district chief.
Amid continued uncertainty over her swearing-in and struggling to keep her flock together as desertion by the MPS went on, Sasikala met AIADMK MLAs housed at a resort on Chennai’s outskirts for the second successive day.
While Sasikala has so far succeeded in keeping the flock of AIADMK MLAS with her, some party MPs started deserting her after Pannerselvam’s rebellion.
Rajya Sabha MP V Maitreyan was the first Parliamentarian to extend support to Panneerselvam. Lok Sabha MPS — P R Sundaram, K Ashok Kumar, V Sathyabama and Vanaroja switched over to his camp yesterday. Panneerselvam also enjoys support of six AIADMK MLAs. In the 234-member state Assembly, AIADMK has 134 members.