The faction war in the AIADMK took a new turn with the party’s general council on Tuesday expelling Sasikala Natarajan from the post of interim general secretary and ratifying an earlier resolution removing her nephew, T.T.V. Dinakaran, as deputy general secretary. The general council declared the late J. Jayalalithaa as “eternal general secretary” and empowered an 11-member committee headed by the former chief minister, O. Panneerselvam (OPS), to hold the powers of general secretary. Dinakaran, who claims the backing of 21 AIADMK MLAs, has declared that he will pull down the government led by Edappadi Palaniswamy (EPS), who, ironically, was chosen by Sasikala when she decided to replace OPS as CM. The OPS and EPS factions have since buried their differences, reportedly at the behest of the BJP leadership, while turning against Sasikala and Dinakaran. The re-united AIADMK, with 113 MLAs, stands a good chance of retrieving the party’s two leaves symbol, frozen by the Election Commission after the warring factions staked claim in April.
The move to entrust a committee with the general secretary’s powers is a radical step for the AIADMK. Since its formation in 1972, it has been a leader-centric and leader-obsessed party. Both the AIADMK founder, MGR, and his successor, Jayalalithaa, demanded total submission from the party’s rank and file. Sasikala looked destined to follow the same model until OPS mounted his dramatic revolt. Since the AIADMK legislators and functionaries lack the charisma and pan-state profile of MGR and Jayalalithaa, the party may benefit from projecting a collective leadership. Cadres could seize this opportunity and institutionalise the new leadership format. It will call for the leaders to square their personal ambitions with the collective goals of the party and learn the art of taking decisions through consultation. In fact, the DMK, the mother ship of the AIADMK, under its founder-leader C.N. Annadurai, took pride in being a movement with a collective leadership. The AIADMK could retrace its steps to Anna and reinvent the party as a movement-centric outfit with inner-party democracy and a collective leadership.
An immediate challenge for the party, however, is to ensure a majority in the assembly — the Opposition claims that the official AIADMK lacks the numbers. The Sasikala-Dinakaran faction and the main Opposition party, the DMK, have separately petitioned the governor for a floor test in the assembly. The DMK has also moved the Madras High Court for a direction on its plea for a floor test. The governor, however, has so far refused to intervene. An early resolution to this dispute is necessary: A government can’t remain in office with its majority under a cloud.