In a last hurrah, O Panneerselvam’s supporters used force to enter the AIADMK headquarters on Monday morning, after a violent clash. However, he could not stop the inevitable. Soon after a High Court order in favour of E Palaniswami, the AIADMK general council met at an auditorium on the outskirts of Chennai to name him interim general secretary. Their next decision was to expel Panneerselvam, or OPS, and his aides from the AIADMK.
With almost all district secretaries and MLAs backing him, Palaniswami or EPS is now the single-most powerful leader in the party, holding a post that before him was occupied only by M G Ramachandran, Jayalalithaa and V K Sasikala.
Since Jayalalithaa’s demise in December 2016, OPS and EPS had been running the AIADMK as a dual leadership. OPS was the coordinator, with EPS accepting the role of joint coordinator as he was also CM.
Last month, the EPS group moved to end the system for single leadership, citing a variety of reasons, including EPS’s relative popularity, culminating in Monday’s developments. OPS’s many efforts to stop the change came to an end Monday.
It was around 8 am on Monday that OPS and men, reportedly after much deliberation, left his residence on Greenways Road to make their way to the AIADMK headquarters in the city. At the time, EPS and supporters were headed for the general council meeting. After OPS men reached the AIADMK headquarters, there was a violent confrontation between the two sides involving exchange of blows and stone-pelting.
The OPS group of more than a thousand men, mostly from his native Theni and Thanjavur, the stronghold of his supporter R Vaithilingam, managed to force their way in shouting slogans calling EPS a “thief”. They went on to damage EPS posters and flex boards inside, before the Madras High Court ruled in favour of the EPS side’s plea, allowing the AIADMK general council meeting to proceed as they had the majority support.
One of the first resolutions moved at the general council was to dissolve the party’s dual leadership system. The fourth established an interim general secretary post, the fifth designated EPS as the interim general secretary, even as Jayalalithaa remains ‘permanent general secretary’, as named after her death. EPS was also empowered to administer the party until a general secretary election was held in four months. In the end, a decision was taken to dismiss OPS and his aides Vaithilingam, J C D Prabhakar, and Manoj Pandian, with OPS accused of collaborating with the DMK government to pursue cases against AIADMK leaders.
Dindigul Srinivasan was nominated treasurer of the AIADMK, a position previously held by OPS.
Natham Viswanathan, who had been an influential electricity minister in Jayalalithaa’s government and had supported OPS in the 2017 power tussle, accused him of having “a cruel face” known only to those close to his team. Senior leader K P Munusamy said OPS had been installed by “one family”, referring to Sasikala.
In his address to the general council after being named interim general secretary, EPS said OPS had not sacrificed anything for the party and called him a “backstabber”. “When this matter (single leadership) first arose, our senior leaders spoke with him several times. We pleaded for his permission for single leadership for the party’s future. Whenever we asked him, he claimed that he always had to make sacrifices. What have you given up for the sake of the party? In truth, you made no sacrifices for the party… You claimed to be Amma’s (late Jayalalithaa’s) trusted aide. How? In 1989, you worked for her rivals. It was just that you acted as if you were a trusted aide, you were not,” EPS said.
AIADMK leader D Jayakumar called OPS a DMK stooge, and suggested that this was the reason the DMK government had not provided protection for the party meeting on Monday morning. Jayakumar remembered how the Jayalalithaa regime had in the 1990s denied the Vaiko group permission to demonstrate outside the DMK headquarters after his expulsion.
Even as the proceedings were going on, the OPS group was spotted loading files into vehicles. As police finally landed, the OPS group threatened not to leave at least until the evening, but were told by the government that the Revenue Department would be taking possession of the party office. After OPS finally left, revenue officers sealed the office.
In its order, the High Court frowned upon the fact that OPS had chosen to approach the court instead of making his case before the party general council. “What the applicant could not achieve, wants to achieve through the court of law and the courts will certainly refrain from interfering with the private affairs of the party, that too at the instance of just one or two members contrary to the interests of thousands of other members of the party,” the court said.
After a single judge court had rejected a similar plea by him ahead of the June 23 general council meeting, OPS had obtained a stay from a division bench at 4.30 am that day to temporarily halt EPS’s elevation.