Sasikala-Panneer Tussle: Governor Seeks Time To Authenticate MLA Signatures

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Chennai: Governor C Vidyasagar Rao informed VK Sasikala, who staked claim to form a government in Tamil Nadu on Thursday evening, that lawmakers’ signatures she has submitted to prove support for her within the ruling AIADMK,have to be authenticated.

Ms Sasikala, a long-time companion of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who died in December, opened her meeting with the Governor by stating in English, “I stake claim”. The 10 Tamil Nadu ministers who accompanied her spent 30 minutes making a 10-point presentation on the party’s decision to choose Ms Sasikala to take over as Chief Minister.

Before Ms Sasikala, the Governor met the man whom she hopes to replace, Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, who was Ms Jayalalithaa’s most trusted aide. Mr Paneerselvam’s camp has alleged that the legislators backing Ms Sasikala were forced to sign blank sheets of paper which are now being misused by her to claim her stake . They also allege that some signatures are forged.

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The Governor has called these serious charges and both he and Ms Sasikala reportedly agreed that the signatures would be authenticated by a senior AIADMK official and the state Assembly Speaker. Rao said that he will decide on their demands and get back to them after “consulting legal experts.”

Sources said that the Governor informed her that Mr Panneerselvam has asked for five days to prove his support within the party. Ms Sasikala objected, saying she had the written support of all of the AIADMK’s 134 legislators. Five of them have crossed over to Mr Panneerselvam, she and her entourage conceded, which makes their actual strength 129, but that was still a clear majority, they told the Governor.

Perhaps the most crucial part of the meeting was the 10 minutes that Ms Sasikala spent with Governor Rao alone at the end of the meeting.

Sources said the Governor made it clear that he will invite her to form the government, but that he needs time to address the concerns raised by Mr Panneerselvam.

He reportedly did not raise the Supreme Court verdict due next week on Ms Sasikala in a corruption case, but her team suspects that his request for more time indicates that his offer may only come if she is cleared by the court. She has been accused of conspiring with Ms Jayalalithaa to acquire a shared illicit fortune in the early 90s during the politician’s first term in office.

Reports said the Governor, in his communication to the Centre late on Thursday night, called the situation in Tamil Nadu “fluid” and that “claims by both sides” need to be verified.

“Chinamma met Governor at the Raj Bhavan and handed over documents relating to her election as leader of the AIADMK Legislature Party,” a statement from the party said without elaborating.