TALKS are on for merger of the rebel faction led by V K Sasikala into the AIADMK, with the BJP facilitating the discussions, in preparation for the May 2021 Assembly elections. Two days ago, T T V Dhinakaran, who is running the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) in the absence of the jailed Sasikala, travelled to Delhi, where he is said to have met top BJP leaders.
In power now for two terms, the AIADMK faces a tough challenge from the DMK in the Assembly polls, its first since supremo J Jayalalithaa’s death. Incidentally, the BJP is said to have played a key role in the split in the AIADMK after her death in December 2016, enabling the faction led by O Panneerselvam and Edappadi K Palaniswami to capture power at the expense of Jayalalithaa’s confidante Sasikala.
The developments come ahead of Sasikala’s expected release from a Bengaluru prison before January 2021.
According to a highly placed source, Dhinakaran has been promised “earliest release” of Sasikala if the talks are fruitful. However, Dhinakaran is said to have demanded that his aunt be made the general secretary and he be given a key post. The arrangement could finally be for the reins of the government to continue with the Chief Minister-Deputy CM duo of Palaniswami and Paneerselvam, while party reins pass on to Sasikala.
A senior AIADMK minister said the above division of powers would be agreeable to most party members, and that the BJP central leadership had been pressing for a merger for more than a year now. “The BJP succeeded in its mission to ensure that there was no unquestionable leader in the party after Amma’s (Jayalalithaa’s) death… The Sasikala camp might be obliged to take up this offer to ensure there are no hurdles in her exit from prison. Edappadi too can hope to gain lost ground with the help of Sasikala. As everyone has an interest in it, this merger is likely to materialise,” the minister said.
Justifying their decision to reach out to Sasikala, a senior state BJP leader said, “Of course, the AIADMK needs to unite and fight the DMK. Sasikala served her punishment, she is no more untouchable.”
Sasikala had been sentenced to four years in a disproportionate assets case, in which Jayalalithaa had been the prime accused, in February 2017.
The AIADMK and BJP had also hinted at Sasikala’s hand in the death of Jayalalithaa. The senior AIADMK minister said they didn’t expect that to be a hurdle either. “There were formal investigations into Amma’s death.”
The minister admitted that the BJP with its sheen of a meddling Delhi party, always a disadvantage in Tamil Nadu, could prove a liability for the AIADMK in the polls. Hence, the added need for the party to get the AMMK on its side.
Dhinakaran has his compulsions too. While he had defeated the AIADMK candidate by a huge margin in the bypolls for the R K Nagar seat held by Jayalalithaa, and continued to be a crowd-puller across the state, he is facing a bribery probe by the Delhi Police and another by the Enforcement Directorate.
AMMK treasurer and Sasikala loyalist P Vetrivel said a merger was possible “if the party leadership was returned to safe hands again”. “The AIADMK is totally broken, only leaders like Chinnamma (Sasikala) and Dhinakaran can revive the party… There is no question of talks without these conditions being met,” Vetrivel said, while denying any knowledge of Dhinakaran’s Delhi trip.
Saying only the DMK and not the BJP is “our permanent enemy”, Vetrivel added that the current AIADMK leadership will collapse in the face of a defeat. “And none of them is a big enough leader to contest as a CM candidate.”
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