The AIADMK’s new Legislature Party leader ‘Edapaddi’ K. Palaniswami, who is the Minister for Public Works Department, State Highways and Minor Ports, is a staunch loyalist of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) supremo Jayalalithaa since the time she entered active politics.
He was part of her four-member kitchen cabinet during 2011-16 along with Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and former Ministers Natham R. Viswanathan and R. Vaithilingam. Presently, he is ranked number three in the Cabinet.
Hailing from the rural Nedungulam village in Edappadi taluk, 62-year-old Mr. Palaniswami joined AIADMK at a young age in the 1980s. He threw his weight behind Jayalalithaa when the party suffered a split after the demise of the party founder M.G. Ramachandran in 1987.
Jayalalithaa instantly rewarded Mr. Palaniswami, hailing from Kongu Vellala Gounder community — a dominant community of the western region — by nominating him as the AIADMK (Jayalalithaa) candidate in the rural Edappadi constituency in the 1989 elections. He tasted success in his maiden attempt. Mr. Palaniswami retained the seat in the 1991 elections.
Mr. Palaniswami, a farmer by occupation, who remained on the sidelines for almost a decade, was in the fray from Edappadi constituency once again in the 2006 elections. However, this time he suffered defeat at the hands of Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) nominee V. Kavery.
Mr. Palaniswami won from Edappadi constituency for the third time in 2011 Assembly elections defeating M. Karthe of PMK. He was inducted in the Jayalalithaa Cabinet as State Highways and Minor Ports Minister. Soon he earned her confidence and became her close confidante.
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Though Jayalalithaa reshuffled her Cabinet umpteen number of times dropping even some senior Ministers during her previous regime (2011-16), Mr. Palaniswami continued to be a prominent member of her team for the entire five years.
In the May 2016 elections, Mr. Palaniswami was fielded again in Edappadi again and he romped home with a whopping margin of 42,022 votes over his nearest PMK rival N. Annadurai in a 15-cornered contest. While Mr. Palaniswami secured 98,703 votes, Mr. Annadurai polled 56,681 votes. The DMK candidate P. A. Murugesan was pushed to the third position with a vote tally of 55,149 votes.
Mr. Palaniswami not only won with a comfortable margin in his native Edappadi constituency, but also steered the AIADMK to bring out a striking performance in Salem district by making a near clean sweep. Of the 11 Assembly constituencies in Salemdistrict, the AIADMK nominees emerged victorious in ten, in many seats with a comfortable victory margins.
Jayalalithaa, in recognition of this striking show, not only retained him in the new Cabinet with the same portfolio, but also gave him additional portfolio of powerful PWD.
During Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation Mr. Palaniswami accompanied Mr. Panneerselvam to Raj Bhavan to meet Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao before the portfolios handled by her were allotted to Mr. Panneerselvam.