There is little doubt that the next head of the state will be a blind loyalist to Puraitchi Thalaiva, or Beloved Leader as she is popularly known, while the actual reins will remain in the hands of Jayalalithaa, even if she is in jail.
However, unlike 2001, the last time that she stepped down midway through her tenure, this time there are more than a few names doing the rounds as possible contenders for the CM’s chair.
While little is known about the second rung of leadership in the party, current Finance Minister O Paneerselvan is seen as the strongest candidate for the chief ministership.
State Transport Minister Senthil Balaji and State Electricity Minister Natham Viswanathan are also seen as likely contenders. Another line of thought is that a non-political person may be elected/appointed as CM until such time as Jayalalithaa can clear her name through the legal process – the current conviction took 18 years in the making.
AIADMK leaders do not rule out rerun of such an arrangement. There is also a rumour that a non-political person may be appointed for the post till Jayalalithaa clears herself of all legal tangles.
In this category, the name of Sheela Balakrishnan, former chief secretary of the state pops up, along with Rajya Sabha MP Navaneethakrishnan.
This will be the second time, Jayalalithaa will be handing over the administration in the middle of the tenure. In 2001, Jayalalithaa had to step down as a Chief Minister following a Supreme Court verdict which held that she could not hold the office after being convicted of criminal offences. At the time, she appointed Panneerselvam as the interim chief minister.
In 2002, Jayalalithaa regained her position after being acquitted by the Madras High Court. She was later elected from Andipatti constituency.
Jayalalithaa will now lose MLA’s post and will have to step down as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, while she stands disqualified from public office for next 6 years, depending on the quantum of sentence and whether she can get an acquittal from a higher court.
During her first tenure as chief minister between 1991 and 1996, Jayalalithaa had announced that she would take just Re 1 as her salary. The charge against her was that her assets were around Rs 3 crore in 1991 but had swelled to around Rs 66 crore in a five-year period between 1991-1996. The AIADMK was voted out in 1996 as it was perceived as corrupt by the people.