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Explained: Why AIADMK has chosen EPS as chief minister candidate

To put it simply, Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) is the most powerful leader in the AIADMK at the moment. He enjoys the support of almost all cabinet members, MLAs and party forums in districts.

Written by Arun Janardhanan , Edited by Explained Desk | Chennai | Updated: October 10, 2020 2:58:17 pm
Chennai: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami being congratulated by AIADMK coordinator and Deputy CM O. Panneerselvam after the former was announced as party's chief ministerial candidate for the upcoming 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections (PTI)

As announced earlier, AIADMK on Wednesday announced Edappadi K Palaniswami, popularly called EPS, as the party’s chief minister candidate. As the incumbent chief minister, and after the ouster of general secretary V K Sasikala, EPS wields the maximum power in the party and government. Still, the announcement came after many weeks of tussle between the factions led by him and the deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam (OPS) who is also a former chief minister though with a diminished support base now. The announcement of the CM candidate has come along with the formation of an 11-member steering committee, a long-standing demand of OPS.

Why AIADMK has chosen EPS as CM candidate

To put it simply, EPS is the most powerful leader in the AIADMK at the moment. He enjoys the support of almost all cabinet members, MLAs and party forums in districts.

OPS held the post of CM post thrice in the past – twice when the late party supremo J Jayalalithaa had to step out of power for brief periods and finally after her death. In a party that had powers centralised at a single point — Jayalalithaa and her close aide Sasikala — the image of OPS was that of the true loyalist of Sasikala and her family that gifted him CM posts in the past.

Chennai: AIADMK coordinator O Panneerselvam announces Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami as the party’s chief ministerial candidate for the upcoming 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections (PTI)

After Jayalalithaa’s death, OPS, who was tasked to handle the role of CM by Sasikala, had broken that trust by leading a revolt against her in the party. However, his unsuccessful revolt ousted him from power with EPS, another Sasikala loyalist, replacing him after a floor test.

Unlike OPS, EPS succeeded in retaining the power he assumed in early 2017. He asserted power and space in the party even as, in the process, he was forced to merge with OPS and throw out general secretary Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran from party posts. Sources close to him would blame BJP for making him do things he never intended to do. Even as he had also acted against Sasikala, EPS had sidelined OPS too in the party and managed to garner support of prominent associates of his predecessor.

Also Read | BJP as mediator, AIADMK and Sasikala hold talks for merger

The importance of this announcement for EPS

Announcing EPS as the CM candidate was an obvious decision. None had a doubt about his prospects to become the CM candidate again. This tightens his grip over the party even as Sasikala is expected to come out of Bangalore prison in a month

“Even if Sasikala comes back and regains her position as party general secretary, EPS will continue to be CM candidate. But Sasikala’s possible return also means that she will dismantle these arrangements and posts such as steering committee and coordinator posts as they were unheard in the party constitution. In such a scenario, OPS will be forced to go back to his earlier position as a loyalist. He doesn’t have many options left as his support base is weaker; neither he can revolt like in 2017 nor claim a moral upper hand,” said a senior AIADMK minister.

AIADMK coordinator O Panneerselvam (L) and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami during the announcement of party’s chief ministerial candidate name in Chennai (PTI Photo)

Has OPS gained anything in this arrangement?

It was the internal tussle kicked up by OPS in the last two months that forced the party to form a steering committee on Wednesday, a promise that was made when OPS and EPS factions merged in August 2017. As EPS camp was reluctant to form the steering committee for three years, it was seemingly a victory of OPS on Wednesday to have his five associates in the newly formed 11-member steering committee.

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However, it will be a victory on paper for OPS as he is hardly left with five MLAs now. Also, sources close to OPS admit that the powers of the steering committee is unclear as the party has also formed separate committees to handle the upcoming election and candidate selections.

“OPS’s single demand was to form a committee without any clarity about its powers. What next? Either OPS will continue to raise more grievances and trigger unrest in the party or both leaders will focus on poll campaigns without showing disagreements in public as it would only make the party weaker,” said a senior AIADMK leader who supported OPS in the past.

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