On a day Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sparking speculation that the BJP is playing a role in the merger of rival AIADMK factions, top leaders from the party’s ruling faction and Tamil Nadu unit of BJP on Friday claimed that work on the merger will be wrapped up before August 22, when BJP president Amit Shah is scheduled to visit the state.
Palaniswami insisted post-meeting that he only discussed issues such as exempting Tamil Nadu from the purview of all-India NEET exam with Modi. On Friday, the rival O Panneerselvam camp approached the Election Commission (EC), demanding that party general secretary V K Sasikala and her nephew and deputy general secretary T T V Dinakaran’s posts be declared invalid. The petition was filed by Rajya Sabha MP V Maitreyan — a move that signals both factions are working in tandem.
Panneerselvam is also in Delhi and is said to be trying for an appointment with Modi. Friday’s developments come a day after Palaniswami took the battle to Dinakaran by cancelling 41 party appointments made by him, and passed a resolution seeking his ouster from the party.
In Chennai, a senior BJP leader Friday said, “Amit Shah wants to visit Tamil Nadu to see a stable government here. We are not intervening in AIADMK’s internal crisis, but we will be happy if this government survives until the 2019 elections.” The BJP leader added that the party’s top leadership “in Delhi” wants to see early state polls, along with the General Election in 2019 — Assembly polls are due next in 2021. While working on the merger, “demands of the OPS camp will be met first,” an AIADMK leader from the Palaniswami camp said, referring to Panneerselvam’s call for removal of Sasikala and her extended family from the party, and instituting a probe into J Jayalalithaa’s death. “Ministerial berths at the Centre comes after that,” he added.
Asked about BJP’s role in addressing the AIADMK crisis and reports on offers of Union Cabinet berths, BJP national secretary H Raja said he cannot comment on Delhi’s efforts to “stabilise the situation”. He said, “I can tell you at the moment (that) we will do all (that is required) to end family politics here — it is detrimental to the interest of Tamil Nadu, or any state for that matter.”
The acceleration in the merger plan comes amid a fast depletion in Dinakaran’s stock in the party. While leaders loyal to Sasikala had claimed even at the beginning of this week that at least 37 MLAs are with them, that number, a source close to Dinakaran said, is now down to 22 at best. “The 37 MLAs had met Dinakaran in person. No MLA wants to lose power. If this government falls, they are unsure of winning again,” the leader said.
DMK leader M K Stalin on Friday said the main opposition party will move a No-Confidence Motion against the AIADMK government if required. But Nanjil Sampath, a close aide of Dinakaran, said the latter will never say he will topple the government. “He has clarified that the party comes first, not the government. If a crisis emerges, he will choose the party,” Sampath said rhetorically.
While 22 MLAs said to be pro-Dinakaran as of today can technically pull down the government if they support a DMK-sponsored trust vote — the Palaniswami faction has 123 MLAs and the Panneerselvam camp another 10, with 118 being the minimum number required in the House — a party legislator said many will jump ship in the current scenario. Stating that the Dinakaran camp may be left with barely 10 MLAs by next week, the legislator said, “Barring a few MLAs and former ministers such as Senthil Balaji, P Palaniappan and Thoppu Venkatachalam, not many would sail with Dinakaran if this is going to be a final warning (from the Central government),” he said.