On a wing and a prayer: Here’s why OPS tries to be Mr Congeniality


There is something about Ottakarathevar Panneerselvam. There is a sense of melancholy – almost serenity – in his eyes, whether he is happy, sad, anxious or angry. When a godman summons this expression, some call him divine; when OPS does it, many call him deceptive.

Maybe he is.

Of late, OPS has improvised on his congeniality to cross political lines and praise the government. The latest was his Saturday statement appreciating the government decision to declare the birth anniversary of Subramania Bharati as ‘Mahakavi Day’. While Bharati is an icon all Dravidian parties worship, M Karunanidhi may not be so. OPS surprised the opposition and the treasury benches earlier during the assembly session while speaking on Stalin’s announcement on building a ‘manimandapam’ for Karunanidhi.

After reminding the house that “all of us” were brought up under Anna’s tutelage, OPS let out a ‘family secret’ — that his father was a Karunanidhi fan. From his father’s collection, he used to read the fiery dialogues of ‘Parasakthi’ that Kalaignar penned to give voice to oppressed classes, he said. Edappadi Palaniswami, too, had heaped praises on Karunanidhi in 2019 when the assembly paid condolences to the former chief minister, but OPS’s recent speech became a subject of banter among the AIADMK legislators who felt OPS by being too nice to too many people, is constantly looking out.

Is that being unfair to OPS? When M K Stalin sat between EPS and OPS at former AIADMK presidium chairman E Madhusudhanan’s funeral, the chief minister was ushering in a new culture of political civility, but when OPS reciprocated with a little praise of Karunanidhi, how did it become an act of appeasement? Well, the answer lies in the position one occupies. A polite gesture by one in a position of power is seen as benevolent, while another in a difficult plight doing the same may be construed as being subservient. That’s bad, but so is politics.

But OPS may not be complaining that his friendly demeanour towards ‘others’ is casting a shadow over his loyalty to the AIADMK. In fact, he must be silently smiling that it helps him maintain his position in the delicate balance of power within the party. As an adaptive politician and the dutiful father of MP P Ravindhranath, OPS has kept alive communication with the BJP national leadership. Less known have been his channels of communication with V K Sasikala. When OPS lost his wife recently, Sasikala and T T V Dhinakaran called on the AIADMK leader. Nothing more should be read into a gesture of condolence, but OPS has silently communicated to EPS that when it comes to playing the second fiddle, he has a choice in Sasikala.

If OPS exploits uncertainty, it is also because uncertainty has been his fuel and feed: He became CM thrice because of uncertainties. OPS has been a beneficiary of circumstances, the chosen one of ad hocism. In the uncertain world of politics, it should be in the nature of such a person to look out for opportunities.

OPS’s first stint as CM lasted five months. Forced to resign by a Supreme Court order in September 2001 citing her disqualification following her conviction in the Tansi land deal case, Jayalalithaa had installed OPS as CM. After getting acquitted, Jaya contested and won a bypoll in Andipatti in February 2002. That day, Poes Garden was a throng of revellers. OPS, still the CM, moved in the crowd inconspicuously, distributing sweets to the visitors. When he reached where I stood, I asked him if he was sad or happy. He extended the sweet box and said: “Laddu saappidunga”. I was reminded of an anonymous quote:

He smiled, but his eyes said ‘pray for me’.

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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