Ending a bitter spat that saw them part ways more than six month ago following the death of their leader J Jayalalithaa, the two factions of the AIADMK announced Monday a merger deal under which Edappadi K Palaniswami will remain the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and O Panneerselvam, his predecessor, will be Deputy Chief Minister. K Pandiarajan, a close aide of Panneerselvam, will also be in the cabinet.
The deal, reached after several rounds of negotiations with the blessings of the BJP, will lead to the formal ouster of V K Sasikala as the AIADMK general secretary — the close aide of Jayalalithaa is doing time in prison in a disproportionate assets case.
Panneerselvam has been designated coordinator of an 11-member steering committee which will also have three joint coordinators — R Vaithilingam, K P Munuswamy and Palaniswami. Vaithilingam said the party will convene a general council meeting to remove Sasikala from the post of general secretary.
The removal of Sasikala and a probe into the death of Jayalalithaa were two key demands of the Panneerselvam faction. But these put at risk the majority that the Palaniswami government enjoys — the Sasikala camp, led by her nephew and party deputy general secretary Dinakaran, has the support of at least 23 MLAs including three Independents. Dinakaran has not yet responded to the merger announcement.
According to AIADMK sources, the removal of Sasikala involves legal steps, including a resolution passed by the general council and informing the Election Commission about the merger, the decision to remove interim chief Sasikala, and withdrawing an affidavit filed by the Palaniswami faction which had endorsed the leadership of Sasikala and Dinakaran.
Following the meeting announcing the merger, an official release from Raj Bhavan said Governor C Vidyasagar Rao had accepted the recommendation of the Chief Minister to designate Panneerselvam as Deputy Chief Minister and the induction of Pandiarajan into the council of ministers.
Panneerselvam has been allocated the Finance portfolio which was held by D Jayakumar. His additional charges will include Housing, Rural Housing and Housing Development, Slum Clearance Board and Accommodation Control, Town Planning, Urban Development and Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority.
Pandiarajan has been given charge of Tamil Official Language and Tamil Culture. He was also given charge of Archaeology, until now with School Education Minister K A Sengottaiyan.
Addressing party leaders, Panneerselvam said “nobody can separate us”. Reminding all present that they are “the children of Amma”, he said he decided on a merger considering the sentiments of the party’s 1.5 crore cadre. He thanked Palaniswami for facilitating the merger.
Palaniswami, in turn, praised Panneerselvam and said AIADMK may be the only party in India that could claim such a merger in spite of many disagreements. He said the united AIADMK will soon retrieve the party symbol, frozen by the Election Commission, and that the party will rule Tamil Nadu for the “next 100 years”.
Opposition DMK leader M K Stalin said the AIADMK merger was something that was operated by “Delhi”.