The ruling AIADMK on Wednesday declared Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami as the party’s CM candidate for next year’s Assembly election.
The decision, announced by Deputy Chief Minister and party coordinator O Panneerselvam at the party headquarters in the morning, was also an occasion that seemingly put an end to disagreements between the two leaders.
The party also formed a 11-member steering committee, a demand by Panneerselvam for long. Delay in formation of this committee had triggered an unease in the party — the Palaniswami faction had thus far ignored the demand, even though it was part of promises made in August 2017 when the two factions merged, leaders close to Panneerselvam pointed out.
The decisions have been taken ahead of the release of V K Sasikala, former AIADMK general secretary and close aide of late CM and party chief J Jayalalithaa, from Bengaluru jail. If it was once their image of Sasikala loyalists that made Panneerselvam, and subsequently Palaniswami, CMs after Jayalalithaa’s long illness, and eventual death in December 2016, both joined hands to oust her from the party after the August 2017 merger.
Preempting the Sasikala factor
O Panneerselvam, or OPS, is left with limited options with a weaker support base in the party. On the other hand, announcing Palaniswami as AIADMK’s CM candidate was an early step taken by the CM camp, possibly for two reasons: to openly declare his prominence in the party over OPS, and to prevent any move to make T T V Dhinakaran the CM candidate if V K Sasikala makes a comeback into the party.
Even as the Panneerselvam camp is weaker — only five MLAs are seen as loyal to the Deputy CM, while the Palaniswami camp enjoys the support of all other MLAs, Cabinet ministers and party district leaders — he found space for his five associates in the steering committee against the six from Palaniswami camp. The 11-member committee has representation from all prominent communities, including two members each from Panneerselvam’s Thevar and Palaniswami’s Gounder communities, two socially and politically powerful OBC communities in the state.
With the formation of a steering committee, the only grievance formally raised by Panneerselvam has been resolved in the party.
The newly constituted steering committee has six powerful leaders and ministers from Palaniswami camp: P Thangamani, S P Velumani, D Jayakumar, C Ve Shanmugam, Dindigul Sreenivasan and R Kamaraj. While nearly all prominent associates of Panneerselvam — such as Natham Viswanathan, minister Mafoi Pandiarajan and former Rajya Sabha MP Maithreyan – are keeping a low profile, five nominees close to the Deputy CM who found space in the steering committee are K Manickam, P Mohan, P H Manoj Pandian, R Gopalakrishnan and J C D Prabhakar — not that prominent leaders who were MLAs or state ministers earlier.
While Panneerselvam himself agreed to announce Palaniswami’s name as CM candidate, his associates in his native town were, meanwhile, actively engaged in putting up banners and flex boards projecting the Deputy CM as the party’s main face in the next elections.
Even if the steering committee has been formed finally, its powers remain unclear, as the AIADMK also formed separate committees in Wednesday’s meeting to take poll-related decisions.
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