The warring breakaway groups of the AIADMK called a truce and merged on Monday. By evening, OPS or O. Panneerselvam, the leader of the AIADMK (Puratchi Thalaivi Amma), was sworn in as deputy chief minister and another MLA from his group was inducted as minister. EPS or Edappadi Palaniswamy, who had replaced OPS as Tamil Nadu CM in February, stays in office. OPS and EPS together, as convenors, will now lead the AIADMK and together keep a watch on a third group that owes allegiance to V.K. Sasikala, J. Jayalalithaa’s long-term aide now in prison, that wants to oust both EPS and OPS. What must worry the ruling group is that the Sasikala faction, led by her nephew T.T.V. Dinakaran, has enough MLAs to pull the plug on the government. If the DMK, the main Opposition in the 233-member House, moves a no-confidence motion, the EPS-OPS government will fall, unless Dinakaran obliges his rivals. Such uncertainty in government does not bode well for the state.
On Monday evening, OPS pledged to work with EPS to fulfill Amma’s dreams. He had invoked Amma’s wishes in February as well when he rebelled against the official group that had decided to replace him as CM. Thereafter, he alleged that the EPS government, still under the guidance of Sasikala, was corrupt. EPS was no less sharp about OPS as the two fought bitterly for Amma’s legacy, her party and the government. The assembly election last year was won by Jayalalithaa and hence, the merger can be said to validate the mandate.
However, it could also be argued that the morality play OPS launched at the Jayalalithaa memorial in February deserved a more convincing closure. Over the months, he had whittled down his grievances against the official AIADMK to just two demands: A CBI probe into Jayalalithaa’s death and the expulsion of Sasikala from the party. Last week, the EPS government announced a state probe into the former CM’s death and on Monday, a spokesperson said the general council of the unified party will expel its “general secretary”. Earlier, such demands had triggered the public spectacle of MLAs being bussed to a beach resort ahead of a controversial floor test and launched a bitter campaign for a bypoll that had to be aborted following cash-for-vote allegations.
Tamil Nadu deserves better than a ruling party preoccupied with the clash within. Going ahead, there will also be the looming question: Did the BJP play a role in the AIADMK merger? Last week, OPS admitted that he had briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi about developments in the party. Tamil Nadu sends 39 MPs to the Lok Sabha and the BJP, surely, would prefer to have a Dravidian party as an ally in the 2019 general election.