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Wednesday, Dec 07, 2022

AIADMK in grip, EPS hand strengthened as court orders remove chinks in armour

Former Tamil Nadu CM knows he has ‘freedom only if the BJP has no means to attack him’, says AIADMK leader.

A former AIADMK leader close to EPS said the party leader had been “lucky, blessed and smart” to have made it this far. (Photo: Twitter/@AIADMKOfficial)

It has been a few good weeks for former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, popularly known as EPS. First, he regained sole control of his party, the AIADMK, in July by ousting his rival O Panneerselvam. Then came two favourable court orders this month.

With significant barriers removed from his path, the AIADMK leader now has more autonomy, according to party insiders. “EPS knows that he has freedom only if the BJP has no means to attack him. Even if a situation arises where he needs to make a critical decision about the alliance, the BJP should have nothing it can use to corner him. He suffered two defeats because of the BJP alliance,” said a senior leader close to EPS.

A former AIADMK leader close to EPS said the party leader had been “lucky, blessed and smart” to have made it this far. “Party leaders, as well as district leaders, support EPS wholeheartedly because they see him as a better alternative to prevent the party’s demise,” he said. “If not, the BJP will have completely cornered us. Getting rid of OPS was simple because he is disliked both inside and outside the party. However, keeping VK Sasikala and TTV Dhinakaran away from the party was more difficult. Even Delhi tried to get him to agree, but he refused because EPS knew that if the Sasikala family entered, they would force him to open their car doors.”

The two cases

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On August 2, the Supreme Court set aside a Madras High Court decision ordering the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate EPS for corruption and nepotism, and eight days later the Madras High Court overturned the Income-Tax Department’s assessment orders against mining baron Sekhar Reddy.

AIADMK insiders said the two cases hovering over their leader had pushed the party to follow the BJP’s lead. The case against Reddy dates back to a raid at premises linked to him three days after former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016. Reddy was alleged to have new currency denominations worth crores and several AIADMK ministers were linked to the case.

The I-T Department in its orders rejected the mining baron’s claim of income totalling Rs 384.55 crore from the 2014-’15 to 2017-’18 financial years, assessing it to have actually been Rs 4,442.13 crore. This, according to the department, put Reddy’s income tax at Rs 2,682 crore. Reddy claimed that the I-T department assessed the income tax without providing any proof or evidence. Based on the information Reddy and others had at their disposal, the court ordered a new evaluation. AIADMK leaders in the EPS camp said the High Court order would be a step toward easing EPS’ problems.

The Supreme Court order setting aside the Madras High Court decision, which was passed on a plea by DMK leader RS Bharathi, was a big reprieve for EPS. The Palaniswami administration was plagued by allegations of widespread corruption and the CM was accused of misusing his position to give road construction project contracts to businesses owned by his relatives and others. The top court asked the high court to decide the complaint against the AIADMK leader without being influenced by earlier observations or orders passed in the matter.

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In addition to these, the slow-moving probe into the Kodanad heist and murder case of 2017 has helped EPS. The DMK reopened the case after coming to power last year but AIADMK workers protested, saying that it was an attempt to trap their leader. But the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that the DMK government set up has not made much progress.

BJP keeps away

The late CM’s aide VK Sasikala has suggested a few times in recent weeks that the party should unite and all the warring factions should merge before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The EPS-OPS duo ousted Sasikala and her nephew Dhinakaran from the party in 2017. Last month, EPS not only sacked OPS but also his sons, including the AIADMK’s sole Lok Sabha MP OP Raveendranath. With this, the AIADMK has been the most united since Jayalalithaa’s time.

While the EPS camp is adamant that Sasikala’s family and OPS cannot rejoin the party, sources close to OPS and Dhinakaran express optimism that the BJP will make it possible for them to find space in the AIADMK-BJP alliance, if not the party, before the general elections.

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But the BJP, which meddled in the party after Jayalalithaa’s death and put in place the dual leadership model, has stayed away from the AIADMK’s recent internal struggles knowing full well that the party was fully behind EPS unlike in 2017. State BJP vice president Karu Nagarajan said the internal crisis was the AIADMK’s to resolve. “They are trying to resolve it legally. Whatever it is, building a larger alliance to defeat the DMK in the Lok Sabha polls is our aim,” he added.

The legal obstacles confronting EPS’ rivals have also boosted his position. Pending trials in a case of alleged bribery of Election Commission officials in Delhi, a related case that the Enforcement Directorate registered, and two cases filed under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) in 1996 have the potential to jeopardise Dhinakaran’s political future. Sasikala too faces a case for purchasing properties with demonetised currency worth more than Rs 200 crore, an Income Tax case, FERA cases from 1996, and a case of alleged bribery of prison officials in Karnataka. The I-T Department has attached almost all of her major properties, worth Rs 1,600 crore as per the I-T documents.

First published on: 12-08-2022 at 09:04:58 pm
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