The long-anticipated merger of the factions of AIADMK in Tamil Nadu led by former Chief Minister O. Paneerselvam and Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami came about on Monday after some last-minute hitches. While Palaniswami continued to be the State’s chief minister in a deal hammered out over several days, Panneerselvam was inducted as deputy chief minister. In an interesting reversal of roles, while Panneerselvam assumed the party reins as co-ordinator, Palaniswami and K.P. Munusamy (a protégé of Panneerselvam) were appointed joint coordinators.
A 11-member steering committee will guide the party, announced the Chief Minister. “We will retrieve the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol and win over our opponents,” he said. R. Vaithialingam, a Rajya Sabha MP was made the party’s deputy coordinator.While party general secretary V.K. Sasikala was not mentioned in the deal since a challenge to her appointment after the demise of J. Jayalalithaa is pending with the Election Commission, there was an understanding reached between the Palaniswami and Panneerselvam factions that she would be removed after the decks are cleared.
The hidden hand of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was all too evident in the AIADMK deal with both the faction leaders having met him several times in the last few weeks. This was with the dual purpose of the BJP gaining a foothold in the state in which the party is virtually a non-entity or at least ensuring electoral support from the AIADMK in and after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and secondly, countering the DMK which was seeing prospects of displacing the AIADMK from power in the assembly elections four years from now. Since the DMK is part of the opposition alliance, the BJP’s keenness to get the better of that party is understandable.
Whether the merged factions will swim together in the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls only time will tell. It would suit them to accommodate each other in their mutual interests but the potential for mischief of Sasikala’s group cannot be under-estimated. Though Sasikala is in jail after her conviction in the disproportionate assets case, her nephew and torchbearer T.T.V. Dhinakaran who has been ousted as deputy general secretary has considerable money and muscle power. Reports say that he has the support of over 20 legislators and this number could either diminish due to lures from the ruling dispensation or grow in the wake of Sasikala and Dhinakaran’s propensity for attracting more legislators.