It was Maasi Magam, a very auspicious day in the Tamil calendar. Also, Maasi Magam happens to be the birth star under which former Tamil Nadu chief minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa was born.

As it happens, Maasi Magam will also be, from now on, be remembered as the day that saw the birth of Edappadi K Palanisamy (EPS) as the quintessential deal-making politician.

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The incumbent Tamil Nadu chief minister pulled off a political coup of sorts by stitching together an important alliance with the PMK, a party that till last month was extremely critical of both the AIADMK party and the AIADMK government at the state.

It might be a politically opportunistic alliance for both, but the fact is the PMK was captured when it looked like it would go with the DMK-Congress alliance team, is credit to the consummate political skills that nobody really suspected EPS to possess in the first place.

When EPS was sworn in as the chief minister of state in February 2017 amidst unprecedented tumult and tension (and the state has seen quite a few), most critics, even charitable ones, gave at best six-month for the government to last.

But just last week, the EPS government completed two years in office, an achievement in itself. Of course, there have been numerous scandals and controversies. Of course, there has been a few good turns done by the Centre. Of  course, some case verdicts have also bizarrely gone the EPS government’s way.

Without these external factors at play, the EPS government would not have sustained. But EPS has been a bigger surprise than his government, in that he has proved to be an instinctive survivor, a smart manipulator and a solid backroom operator.

“He has been a revelation, surely. He has held the government together, by hook or crook,” says M Bhaskar Sai, a Chennai-based journalist. “That sure deserves some credit. Nobody thought he will last even for a year as the chief minister. He has proved his critics wrong with his rustic wisdom and innate intelligence.”

When EPS took over, his party was imploding. Jayalalithaa dead, Sasikala jailed, TTV plotting, his own deputy (OPS) scheming for his downfall, the Opposition baying for his blood, the Central government having a strong control over was next to impossible for him survive.

But survive he has. There have been many controversies on the way. The Sterlite protests, which unfortunately saw common public dying in police shootout, the 18 MLAs disqualification case (the second high court verdict was to his favour, though), the hullabaloo over eight-lane Salem highway, NEET kerfuffle. The pot of problems has overflowed. But EPS has weathered them all with understated adroitness.

Even now the allegation is that he is the BJP’s puppet. But look at the deal he has managed to wangle out from them for the polls. The AIADMK has given it only five seats to contest, but in return it has got the BJP’s and the PMK’s support for the state by-elections, winning which is crucial for EPS government’s survival.

Out of the 21 seats for state poll, around seven fall in the PMK’s stronghold Vanniyar belt. He seized the PMK’s backing by smartly agreeing to one more Lok Sabha seat (PMK was to originally get only six seats) and a Rajya Sabha ticket, the EPS government managed to retain the PMK for the longer race of state politics.

Aside from tackling outside forces, EPS has also kept his ambitious deputy O Panneerselvam, who is still reportedly trying to unseat him, at bay through some shrewd backroom politicking. Ditto in keeping off TTV Dhinakaran’s efforts to poach MLAs from the AIADMK.

EPS’ trusted lieutenants have been the ministers Velumani and Thangamani. The veteran D Jayakumar has also been given a free hand to carry out his agenda.

“He is not a stentorian leader in Jayalalithaa’s mould. He may not command implicit obedience. He may not invoke fear. But he sure engenders a feel-good factor and that in turns allows space for loyalty,” says a top AIADMK leader and minister. He adds: “Look at the helplessness of the Opposition. They were initially gunning for us. But now you see the likes of the DMK and Kamal Haasan fighting amongst themselves. The chief minister sure knows ways to deflect bullets aimed at him.”