The door appears to be closing on the political ambitions of T T V Dinakaran, AIADMK deputy general secretary and nephew of jailed party leader V K Sasikala, after Delhi Police registered an FIR against him for allegedly trying to bribe Election Commission officials through a middleman to obtain the party’s two-leaves poll symbol.
Sources in the AIADMK’s ruling Sasikala faction told The Indian Express that they were discussing a number of scenarios to “safeguard” the party and government in Tamil Nadu, including a possible merger with the rebel group led by former chief minister O Panneerselvam. But all options, they said, had one common strand: Dinakaran must go.
A senior minister told The Indian Express that Dinakaran may resign on Tuesday after meeting Sasikala, who is lodged in a Bengaluru jail.
“A Delhi Police team is expected to meet Dinakaran in Chennai tomorrow and summon him to Delhi. If he gets arrested, the merger may happen with Panneerselvam being made the finance minister and given a key party post,” said the minister.
Late in the evening, Chief Minister E Palanisami summoned all AIADMK MLAs to attend a meeting in Chennai on Tuesday, said sources.
Also by evening, a rift appeared to have emerged within the ruling faction on the way forward, with two groups of ministers holding separate meetings. One meeting saw about 20 ministers, who had previously asked Dinakaran to step down, getting together to discuss the crisis. The other had about three ministers gathering at Housing Minister Udumalai K Radhakrishnan’s residence.
Leaders from the first group, later, described Paneerselvam and Palanisami as “brothers” and welcomed the option of a “merger”.
Dinakaran, however, maintained a brave front and denied the charges of bribery using the alleged middleman Sukesh Chandrasekhar, who was arrested from a five-star hotel in south Delhi Sunday, allegedly with Rs 1.3 crore in cash.
“I haven’t bribed anyone. How can I do all this? I will face it (the charge) legally if I get a summons,” he said in Chennai.
Dinakaran was the ruling faction’s candidate for the R K Nagar bypoll, which was cancelled by the Election Commission on April 9, following allegations of voters being bribed. Earlier, the commission had frozen the party’s poll symbol after both factions staked claim to it.
Panneerselvam, meanwhile, indicated that he was open for talks on a merger. The hint was welcomed by Sasikala faction leader and Lok Sabha deputy speaker M Thambidurai. “It is a good decision. We welcome it. There have been differences of opinion, but we are all united. Safeguarding the government will be the first priority,” he said.
Last week, several ministers had reportedly asked Dinakaran to step down, claiming that he was the target of the central agencies, and not the party — the bypoll allegations were based on I-T searches at 35 properties of Health Minister C Vijayabaskar.
Sources in the Panneerselvam camp said they were exploring other options, too, including a large-scale defection from the ruling faction. On Monday, it approached the Election Commission with a petition to dispose of the case relating to appointment of Sasikala as the party’s general secretary, which it had challenged.
According to the petition by MP V Maitreyan, Sasikala, convicted in a disproportionate assets case, cannot hold the post as she was subjected to disciplinary proceedings by former chief minister J Jayalalithaa. The commission had earlier set Monday as the deadline to submit affidavits, although the ruling AIADMK (Amma) faction had sought eight weeks.
However, leaders in both factions said the government would stay.
“Even if some ministers are in a hurry for a merger or to switch sides, bringing down the government will not be favoured by a majority of the AIADMK MLAs. But these MLAs are not likely to favour Dinakaran and Sasikala, either. There are three priorities: safeguard the government, escape the wrath of the BJP-led Centre and retrieve the symbol. It is unlikely that we will get the symbol while the Sasikala family controls the party,” said a leader of the ruling faction.
In Delhi, the alleged middleman Chandrasekhar was transferred to police custody for eight days by Special Judge Pratibha Chowdhry.
DCP (Crime) Madhur Verma said, “Police arrested Sukesh, who was allegedly trying to bribe officials of the EC for the AIADMK symbol, and recovered Rs 1.30 crore from his possession. We have also recovered two cars, a BMW and a Mercedes. We have registered an FIR under Section 170 (impersonating a public servant) and 120 B (criminal conspiracy) of IPC, and Section 8 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (gratification by corrupt or illegal means to influence a public servant), naming Dinakaran.”
Sources said officers of police’s inter-state cell received information that Chandrasekar, who had earlier been arrested in several cases of cheating, was trying to contact EC officials.
“Police arrested him at the hotel where he was staying with his wife. A CD was found in his possession in which he had allegedly recorded telephone conversations with someone identified as Dinakaran. Police also found an audio recording of a retired bureaucrat in conversation with Chandrasekhar. The CD will be sent to a forensic lab,” sources said.
“During questioning, he said he approached Dinakaran a few months ago and offered help. He claimed that he had struck a deal worth Rs 50 crore to get Dinakaran’s AIADMK faction the ‘two leaves’ symbol,” sources said.
“Around 10 days ago, Chandrasekhar came to Delhi posing as an MP. He told police that he received Rs 10 crore from a Delhi-based hawala operator and visited several ministries to approach officials with contacts in the EC. Police have seized CCTV footage from the hotel and the ministries,” said sources.