Barely seven months before Tamil Nadu goes to polls, the ruling AIADMK suffered a jolt on Monday with Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam openly sparring at the party’s executive committee meeting over the chief ministerial candidate for 2021. After nearly five hours of stormy discussions, the party arrived at a momentary truce with senior leader K P Munusamy declaring that the chief ministerial candidate of the AIADMK will be announced on October 7.
The two leaders, who were heading their respective AIADMK factions, had come together at the behest of the BJP in August 2017. Post-merger, Panneerselvam, a three-term Chief Minister (each tenure of short duration) had agreed to be Deputy Chief Minister, while assuming charge of coordinator of the AIADMK. Palaniswami, who was appointed Chief Minister in February 2017, shortly after former AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa’s close aide V K Sasikala was sentenced to four-year imprisonment in Bengaluru in a corruption case by the Supreme Court.
According to sources, at the executive committee, School Education Minister Sengottaiyan raised the issue of chief ministerial candidate and said it should be decided to place faith on Palaniswami, who has been heading the Government.
It is learnt that Panneerselvam pitched for himself to be the CM candidate. “I had agreed to be Deputy Chief Minister only to ensure continuance of this Government. I was identified and chosen as Chief Minister by Jayalalithaa (twice when she was unseated by court verdicts),” he said.
However, sources said, Palaniswami immediately countered this saying, “Both of us were chosen by Sasikala (after Jayalalithaa’s death). You and 10 other MLAs had voted against the Motion of Confidence moved by me in February 2017. What would have happened had the motion been defeated.”
Sources said that while quite a few leaders spoke in favour of Palaniswami being the CM candidate, Panneerselvam did not find any open support. Nonetheless, a couple of leaders endorsed his demand to form an 11-member steering committee for the party but this was shot down by Palaniswami.
Amidst all this, a few leaders momentarily brought about a truce between two leaders and put off the decision on the CM candidate for a few days. The party will announce its decision on October 7.
Political observers feel that the AIADMK’s caste fault lines are out in the open. The MLAs of Gounder community, to which the Chief Minister belongs, now dominate in strength, while the party traditionally draws support from the Mukkalathor community as well, to which Panneerselvam and Sasikala belong.