All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader Edappady K Palaniswami (EPS) | Photo: PTI
Chennai: The Supreme Court stamp of approval over the leadership of Edappady K Palaniswami, more popularly known as EPS, comes just days ahead of the February 27 Erode East bypoll, in which the AIADMK interim chief has invested a lot of prestige to upset the ruling DMK and ensure his party reversed the general trend of the ruling dispensation walking away with a by-election win.
Anointed interim General Secretary in the July 11, 2022 AIADMK general council that prompted his rival O Panneerselvam to mount a legal battle against the elevation, EPS could well soon become the General Secretary, a powerful post last occupied by the charismatic late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.
Palaniswami has come a long way in the AIADMK, now the main opposition party and one that has ruled Tamil Nadu for over three decades.
Beginning his political career as a branch secretary in 1974 at Siluvampalayam in Salem District, Palaniswami gradually rose through the ranks to become the interim party chief and he has held various party positions including that of district secretary and party headquarters secretary. He belongs to the Gounder community, dominant in western Tamil Nadu.
In 1989, when the party split following founder M G Ramachandran's death, he threw his weight behind the late Jayalalithaa and was first elected as a legislator in polls held that year.
During that time, Panneerselvam was with the rival camp, and pointing to this, Palaniswami had earlier said the ousted leader was neither loyal to Amma (as Jayalalithaa was addressed), nor to the party.
Palaniswami was elected again in 1991 to the Assembly and became a Minister in 2011. Again in 2016, he not only found a place in the Jayalalithaa Cabinet, he also was among her chosen small group of leaders whom the late matriarch consulted often on party matters.
A grass-roots level leader, 68-year-old Palaniswamy's growth in the party in a career spanning close to 50 years has been steady. He was also elected to the Lok Sabha in 1998.
Palaniswami's first crucial forward leap came after the May 2016 Assembly elections when Jayalalithaa handed him the important Public Works portfolio besides Highways and Minor Ports that he had held even before.
After Panneerselvam's revolt in early 2017, Palaniswami seized the opportunity and sided with Sasikala who picked him as her choice to be the chief minister. Once in the saddle, Palaniswami worked to cement his position and proved his mettle as an able administrator both in the party and government and Panneerselvam turned out to be a figurehead.
Palaniswami carefully built his image as a leader from a humble background, from a farming family and often appeared in a green turban used by farmers during election campaigns. He has also ensured that none from his immediate family were in party posts and effectively targeted the DMK for 'dynasty politics'.
Even during the campaign for the last year's Assembly polls, it was Palaniswami who stole the show. Though the AIADMK lost power, it won hands down in Palaniswami's home turf of western region which helped him further consolidate his position in the party.
Since then, there was no looking back and continuous efforts to expand his support base among functionaries eventually resulted in his elevation as interim party chief.
On the other hand, the party's performance in the 2021 Assembly polls in southern districts and the Theni region, home to Panneerselvam, was dismal.
The ousted leader was hence prompted to accept a junior role as Deputy Leader in the Assembly while Palaniswami was chosen the Leader of Opposition.
Panneerselvam and his son, Lok Sabha MP P Ravindhranath lauding DMK on a number of occasions was also a contributory factor that led to his ouster from the party in the July 11 general council, the party's highest decision making body.
Palaniswami's organising skills could be gauged from the fact that a big chunk of Panneerselvam's followers including the heavyweight K P Munusamy and former Minister K Pandiarajan did not hesitate to shift loyalty some time ago.