The political turmoil in Tamil Nadu following the death of J Jayalalithaa in December took a decisive turn Tuesday, with the ruling AIADMK faction deciding to “delink” its jailed general secretary V K Sasikala and her nephew T T V Dinakaran from all party affairs, paving the way for a merger with the rebel group headed by O Panneerselvam. The late-night development has come as a severe blow to Sasikala and her family, which has been holding the reins of the ruling faction after ousting Panneerselvam from the chief minister’s chair in February. Dinakaran is the party’s deputy general secretary.
AIADMK sources told The Indian Express that the decision to “keep out” Sasikala and Dinakaran was taken during a meeting held at the residence of Chief Minister E K Palaniswami, and attended by 12 ministers, six MLAs and two MPs. Finance Minister D Jayakumar, who attended the meeting, said, “Sasikala’s family will be delinked from the party’s affairs. More than 1.5 crore AIADMK cadres wish that the family of Dinakaran should be kept out.” Sources said that a majority of leaders in the ruling faction, including ministers and MLAs, have supported the decision to keep Sasikala and her family “out of power in the party”.
Panneerselvam, who reached Chennai from Madurai late in the evening, refused to talk to reporters at the airport. But sources in his camp confirmed that the latest move by the official faction “has opened the doors for talks on the merger”. Sources said that Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker, M Thambidurai, a key member of the official faction, reached Delhi Tuesday and held talks with BJP leaders.
Earlier in the day, negotiations between the two factions had stalled after night-long discussions when the rebel group hardened its position and demanded the ouster of Sasikala and Dinakaran from the party. The first signs of a merger had emerged Monday after Dinakaran was booked by Delhi Police for allegedly trying to bribe Election Commission officials through a middleman to obtain the party’s two-leaves poll symbol, which was frozen by the EC following claims from both sides.
At the time, the indication was that the rebel camp would agree to a merger if Dinakaran was ousted, and Panneerselvam given a prominent cabinet berth and a senior party post. A state minister told The Indian Express that the Panneerselvam camp agreed to the deal presented on Monday night but changed its mind according to “directions from their bosses” in Delhi.
“MP V Maithreyan, the hardliner in the rebel camp who was earlier with the BJP, forced Panneerselvam to take a tough line against the Sasikala family. Maithreyan is in touch with two senior Union ministers and is acting up on their directions,” alleged the minister. Maithreyan, however, denied the allegations. “That is not true. I am not a hardliner. Panneerselvam had been demanding the ouster of Sasikala’s family from the party. Also, we want Jayalalithaa’s death to be probed,” he said.
Maithreyan claimed that the Sasikala faction was “forced” to discuss a merger due to the FIR registered against Dinakaran. “A series of raids by central agencies (at Health Minister Vijaybaskar’s properties) and the case against Dinakaran forced them to come to us for shelter,” he claimed. “Their theory that the BJP is behind us is not true. If the symbol was their concern, they should have discussed the merger when the EC decided to freeze it. Now they have come to us for shelter after a minister was raided and Dinakaran was booked by police,” claimed Maithreyan.
Sources in both camps said removing Sasikala from the post of general secretary will pave the way for Panneerselvam to occupy the seat. “Those who are controlling him want a convenient leader like Panneerselvam at the top of AIADMK in Tamil Nadu,” said a senior leader. Another leader warned that dumping the Sasikala family for a merger will temporarily resolve the problem but lead to a crisis in the party over the next six months.
“The merger plan will trigger infighting for power, based on seniority and caste equations. The Panneerselvam faction is demanding a minimum of six ministerial posts,” claimed a leader. As for the negotiations overnight, around 20 ministers gathered at Power Minister P Thangamani’s residence to discuss “whether only Dinakaran or Sasikala, too, should step down from the party leadership”. Another meeting, at Housing Minister Udumalai K Radhakrishnan’s house, was attended by only six ministers, all loyalists of Sasikala. “They were against the demand to remove Dinakaran from the party post,” said sources.