The ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu was expected to announce its chief minister candidate for next year’s Assembly elections on October 7. The announcement could now be delayed, thanks to an evolving conflict in the party between Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) and deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam.
What is the reason for the AIADMK crisis?
The crisis in the AIADMK started after party supremo J Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016. An Income Tax raid and massive seizure of new currency notes worth crores a month after Demonetisation from Sekar Reddy, a mining baron who had close ties with AIADMK leaders, was the turning point for the party.
Among many politicians, the then Chief Minister O Panneerselvam (OPS) was the top name rumoured to have close ties with Reddy. Sahara model diary notings seized from Reddy had references to OPS and his office – an evidence, many believe, that forced OPS to lead a revolt and split the AIADMK.
Soon, OPS had lost his CM post and Edappadi K Palaniswami, another Sasikala loyalist, was appointed as CM. However, EPS too faced charges from central agencies after raids conducted during the R K Nagar bypoll.
Later, EPS and OPS factions merged in August 2017, after Sasikala, the then party general secretary and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran, were ousted from the party. The BJP was said to have had a key role in scripting events that evolved after Jayalalithaa’s death. The BJP was accused of attempting to dismantle and destabilise a state government using central agencies.
Three years later, those who scripted the events and played roles in it have to mobilise maximum strength to face the upcoming general polls to defeat the powerful DMK now. The united AIADMK with EPS and OPS have BJP too in their alliance. There were talks in progress to unite the Sasikala faction with the ruling party again. And a crisis has emerged now from OPS camp seeking more space and power in the party structure.
How powerful are OPS and EPS?
Ever since he launched a revolt in the party and led a ‘Dharma Yudham,’ as he himself would call it, against party chief Sasikala, OPS seemingly had an upper hand because her image was dented for her alleged roles in corruption involving the late Jayalalithaa. But the moral upper hand of OPS was of no use for him politically as he failed to mobilise strength.
He had hardly 12 or 13 MLAs when he led the revolt first. After the merger, OPS himself got the post of deputy chief minister and another associate, Mafoi Pandiarajan, got a cabinet post. However. three years later, OPS is now left with five MLAs in his camp while many leaders including Pandiarajan are no more the same vocal supporters of OPS faction.
Meantime, EPS emerged as the CM after defeating OPS in a floor test in the state assembly. He had a powerful team that supported the Sasikala faction. Almost all MLAs of AIADMK except those handful who left with OPS are with EPS now. If the success of EPS was that he managed to run the government with a majority and complete five years now, he was also victorious in bringing more people from OPS camp to his side.
EPS, as a CM, has also emerged as a seasoned politician and a not-so-bad administrator for the bureaucracy, the famous Madras Cadre of Tamil Nadu, who actually runs the government administration. Many who work closely with the government would talk about the dependence of the EPS government on IAS officers in each and every decision.
When asked, people close to EPS would agree that winning the next election is not easy. “But the party is safe in his hands,” said a senior minister known for his close camaraderie with EPS.
What makes OPS and EPS stronger and weaker?
There is hardly anything left for OPS to assert his strength.
OPS, ahead of polls and rumours of Sasikala joining the AIADMK, is trying to figure out his political future now. He was busy meeting his associates in the last few days. He also has the burden of protecting his powerful family including his son O P Raveendranath, the only Lok Sabha MP of AIADMK from Tamil Nadu. For his relief, however, a CBI court in Chennai said last week that there was no prosecutable evidence against mining baron Reddy in connection with the currency seized in 2016.
But EPS continues to be careful and guarded. There are cases pending against his senior colleagues with reportedly incriminating evidence against him as well. Even if these evidences are not powerful enough to prosecute him, any arrest or naming him in a chargesheet will have serious political consequences. His strengths are, obviously, his unquestionable power in the AIADMK and his relatively successful style in running the party and the government after the merger.
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Many close associates of OPS and EPS would say one thing – that both of them were being forced to do many things that they never wanted to do.
A close associate of EPS would add that his actions – assuming the CM post or ousting Sasikala or fighting Dhinakaran electorally – were all a political strategy he had to adopt to sustain the party. “AIADMK would have collapsed otherwise. If at all there is an enemy for EPS, that would be DMK politically and BJP for whatever they had done. Sasikala was never an enemy he chose to fight,” the associate said.
What would be happening before Oct 7?
With his limited strength in the party, the only clear grievance raised by OPS before the party was the formation of a steering committee. For EPS, he had the strength and majority to ignore this demand so far.
As OPS has started meeting his associates alone and chose to skip a meeting with EPS last week, it is likely that EPS would make attempts to convince OPS – through talks or by forming the steering committee, which was unheard for AIADMK in the past.
The party has announced that they would announce the CM candidate on October 7. If there is no consensus within, OPS is likely to skip the meeting called on October 7.
So, clearly, it would be yet another occasion for CM EPS to exhibit his political skills by taking OPS too in confidence instead of showing his power.
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