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Southern States - Tamil Nadu

Best birthday gift: Jayalalithaa
By Suresh Nambath

After presenting a bouquet to greet his leader, Jayalalithaa, on her victory, the outgoing Chief Minister, O. Paneerselvam, seeks her blessings at her Poes Garden residence. - Photo: V. Ganesan

CHENNAI, FEB. 24. In Ms. Jayalalithaa's own words, it was the ``best birthday present I've ever received in my life.'' And AIADMK partymen, as also senior IAS and IPS officials, who queued up at her Poes Garden residence with bouquets and shawls, greeted her twice-over. There was no trouble with this double: the 54th birthday, and the birthday gift in the form of the victory in Andipatti. The last few years, Ms. Jayalalithaa has been spending her birthday quietly at home. Partymen would mark the day outside, on their own - distributing sweets at the AIADMK headquarters and offering prayers in temples.

Today, of course, was different. The centre of celebrations was Poes Garden itself. As soon as she established a comfortable lead over DMK's Vaigai Sekhar, Ms. Jayalalithaa walked out of the front door and received cheering partymen. Many of them had already expressed their joy loud and clear with firecrackers.

Even as she kept monitoring the ``lead situation'' in Andipatti, Ms. Jayalalithaa received each and every worker and official with a smile. And, after an hour, at 12 noon, she was ready to announce the final result. ``I've been declared elected with a margin of 41,200,'' she said setting off another round of celebrations.

Most AIADMK workers insisted on touching the ground near her feet. Security personnel had to pull away those who kneeled down a little longer. But everytime someone actually touched her feet, Ms. Jayalalithaa would step back with a look of rebuke. For an important few, she paused and posed for photographs.

Ms. Jayalalithaa having a word with her friend, Sasikalaa.

While talking to reporters later, Ms. Jayalalithaa was at her best. For the benefit of television cameras she would repeat in Tamil what she said in English, and vice-versa. One reporter asked her to repeat her oft-repeated line: ``People's verdict is God's verdict.'' And, she obliged.

Ms. Jayalalithaa took the opportunity to reiterate her promise that she would make Tamil Nadu the No. 1 State in the country in every sphere, and Andipatti the No. 1 constituency in the State. ``I will not rest until I've achieved this goal,'' she said.

Expressing her ``sincere and heartfelt gratitude'' to the voters of Andipatti, Ms. Jayalalithaa said she would fulfill all the promises she made during the election campaign.

Ms. Jayalalithaa attributed her victory to the ``unstinted support'' of party cadres, who, she said, had remained ``united and disciplined'' through a trying period. The AIADMK legislature party met in the afternoon and unanimously elected her the leader. Immediately thereafter, the Chief Minister, O. Paneerselvam, submitted his resignation. The Governor, P.S. Ramamohan Rao, asked him to continue till alternative arrangements were made.

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