Six months after former chief minister O Panneerselvam revolted and attempted to split the AIADMK, a merger seems close. At the end of many marathon meetings and tortuous negotiations over the past few months, the factions led by OPS and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami seem to have hammered out the formula for re-unification. An announcement is likely on Monday, sources on both sides said.
The two factions are allegedly under pressure from the BJP to announce the merger before August 22, the day party president Amit Shah is scheduled to visit Tamil Nadu. OPS is learnt to have taken the final decision to seal the deal at a meeting with his senior aides late on Friday night. The BJP national leadership has been informed that the merger will be announced on Monday, top leaders from both factions said.
The merger will be announced even though the key demands of the OPS camp — including the removal of Sasikala from the party — remain unmet, sources on both sides said. At least three leaders — K P Munuswamy, P H Pandian and Manoj Pandian — are likely to publicly oppose the merger, if it is announced without the removal of Sasikala.
The OPS camp’s other two major demands are: a CBI probe into J Jayalalithaa’s death, and the post of either chief minister or party general secretary for OPS. He is, however, left with very few options — his camp has only 10 MLAs, and the rival faction controls the state government. One MLA left him two weeks ago to join the ruling faction.
A third faction of the AIADMK, led by Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dinakaran, has the support of 20 MLAs — enough to topple the EPS government.
A senior ruling faction leader said a decision on removing Sasikala from the post of general secretary and the party would be taken in a month. “We cannot remove Sasikala immediately even if OPS insists,” he said. The OPS faction is learnt to have been promised that a presidium committee, co-chaired by OPS and EPS, would be formed to control the party’s affairs until the process of Sasikala’s ouster is complete.
OPS has been offered the post of deputy chief minister, and the plum portfolios of PWD and Highways, which get a large share of the state’s budgetary allocation, it is learnt. Sources said the final deal also includes the promise of two more ministerial berths for the OPS camp, besides key posts for at least top 10 leaders in the party or government — such as those of district secretary or influential posts in state boards.
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While OPS and Mafoi Pandiarajan were keen to settle the issue, a section in their faction remained opposed, the sources said. “OPS is desperate. It has been more than five months since he lost power. He has no option but to agree to the merger even at the cost of backing off on demands such as the post of CM,” said a leader.
Pandiarajan told The Sunday Express that there would be a decision in two days. A crucial stage had been crossed, and a statement would be issued on Monday, he said. He declined to elaborate.
Former BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP V Maitreyan, a close OPS aide since his revolt in February, however, said a final settlement was yet to be reached. Asked about the role of the BJP, he said the party had no role in the merger.
“Both OPS and EPS never wanted to revolt but the situation made them do so. They are left with very few options,” said a minister, who is in the EPS camp, but might end up supporting Dinakaran if a situation arose.
“I wouldn’t have been an MLA or a minister without Chinnamma (Sasikala),” he said.
Dinakaran’s close aide Nanjil Sampath said Dinakaran has already proved that the entire party was supporting him. “We have proved our strength at the Melur rally. Dinakaran’s next rally in Chennai will prove it again,” he said, adding that what was happening between the two rival factions was a “forced merger”.
“When Amma (Jayalalithaa) was alive, BJP didn’t have the courage to abuse their power in Tamil Nadu. After her death, they are trying to trap all of us. This is the BJP’s plan. This state will never pardon them for creating this unrest. They will be taught a lesson finally,” Sampath said.
BJP national secretary H Raja denied the allegations. “When forced marriages are failures,” he said, “why should we go for a forced merger in the AIADMK?” “We are against Sasikala’s family politics, we will stand against that. But otherwise, we have no role in the AIADMK crisis. We are neither compelling them to merge, nor controlling their leaders,” he said.
A senior minister said on Saturday morning that the August 22 deadline for announcing the merger was likely to be met. “We are all accountable,” he said.