It was scheduled as a quiet, private meeting, but Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam’s appointment with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday quickly generated unwanted political anticipation.

Defence Ministry sources told
The Hindu
that a request for a meeting with the Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, was made by AIADMK leader V. Maitreyan for himself and Mr. Panneerselvam about a week earlier. But Dr. Maitreyan wanted Mr. Panneerselvam’s name kept out of the appointment sheet of the Minister that is circulated to the staff. According to a source in the Ministry, he wanted only his own name to be disclosed for the 2.30 p.m. meeting. Enquiries over who would be photographing the event and whether or not it would be shared on the Minister’s social media account were made by Dr. Maitreyan, a source said.

As to the purpose of the meeting, nothing specific was mentioned. “The Minister had received a call from Mr. Panneerselvam about the provision of an air ambulance to move his brother from a Madurai hospital to Apollo Chennai. The Minister was told that Mr. Panneerselvam had made arrangements for a private air ambulance, but because of a technical glitch, those arrangements collapsed. The Minister said that she would check if norms permitted the use of armed forces air ambulance, and when that was checked out, the air ambulance was despatched,” said the source.

Hours before the meeting, Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, apparently to quell speculation that the meeting held political import, made public the prospective meeting. This prompted rival factions in the party to get in touch with the Defence Minister asking for separate meetings for themselves. On the day of the meeting, Tuesday, both Dr. Maitreyan and Mr. Panneerselvam, despite their own ‘blandishments’ that the meeting with the Defence Minister be kept quiet, told television channels that it was a meeting on a private matter, specifically to thank the Minister for the use of the Defence Ministry-owned air ambulance. “The Minister was confused over why the duo asked for the visit to be kept private and then made it public on their own. She decided therefore not to meet anyone,” said a source.

AIADMK leaders have confirmed that the appointment was sought essentially for Mr. Panneerselvam, even though it was Dr. Maitreyan who formally made the request. The purpose was indeed to thank the Minister for arranging the air ambulance.

But they were keen that the details be kept confidential till Mr. Panneerselvam left for New Delhi. Otherwise, AIADMK leaders feared, the media would have “indulged in unnecessary speculation.” The reason for making the purpose public on the day of the visit was the same: to dispel any notion that the meeting was political in nature.

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