There were no drum rolls, no huge posters dotting the streets of Chennai. The merger of the two AIADMK factions, led by former Tamil Nadu chief minister O. Panneerselvam and his successor Edappadi K. Palaniswami, was supposed to bring cheer to the cadre. But it has only brought more uncertainty, what with V.K. Sasikala’s nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran and his supporters playing spoilsport.
At the party headquarters on August 21, a subdued Panneerselvam said, “We have now come together to follow the path laid by our revolutionary leader Amma [former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa].” Palaniswami, on the other hand, was beaming. “The party will have a steering committee, led by Panneerselvam,” he said. “K.P. Munusamy, R. Vaithilingam and I will be part of the committee to lead the party effectively.”
A three-time stopgap chief minister, Panneerselvam got a raw deal. As deputy chief minister, he has been allotted the finance, housing and urban development ministries, and not a powerful portfolio like home. Also, not many from his faction have benefited from the merger; only K. Pandiarajan found place in the cabinet. P.H. Manoj Pandian, son of P.H. Pandian, who had raised questions over Jayalalithaa’s death, might be made Tamil Nadu representative in Delhi. The post is now held by Thalavai Sundaram, who is close to Dhinakaran. And some Rajya Sabha members in the Panneerselvam camp like V. Maitreyan have been promised one more term.
A few compromises were made by the Palaniswami camp, too, but with little or no inconvenience to the top leadership. While D. Jayakumar had to part with his finance portfolio, he has retained the fisheries ministry. His son J. Jayavardhan is tipped to join the Union cabinet. The AIADMK is expected to join the National Democratic Alliance, like the Janata Dal (United) had done in Bihar.
“The government seems to be stronger than earlier with more number of ministers,” said political analyst Raveendran Duraisamy. “On the face of it, Palaniswami has won and Panneerselvam had to settle for less. Now, Panneerselvam is the leader of the steering committee. But chances are that Palaniswami will lead both the party and the government in the near future.”
This will widen the fissures in the party at the grassroots level. “I was a district secretary when Amma was alive. I supported Panneerselvam all these days. But I don’t know if I will get back my position in the party,” said a member. Also, differences will emerge “right from the stage of quoting tenders,” said an office-bearer from Dindigul. “There is no Amma to control them now.”
On August 22, Dhinakaran, the party’s deputy general secretary, revolted. Nineteen legislators of his faction called on governor C. Vidyasagar Rao, saying they had lost confidence in the chief minister. Dhinakaran also has the support of three other MLAs who had contested on the AIADMK’s two leaves symbol. In the 234-member house, the party has 134 members, and Palaniswami would need the support of 117 members to prove his majority. Party insiders said Dhinakaran had asked Palaniswami to concede demands made by his aunt Sasikala, who is in jail in a case of unaccounted wealth. On August 23, Dhinakaran sacked six office bearers of the party. One of them, Vaithilingam, had demanded that Sasikala be expelled from the party.
The DMK, the main opposition party, has called for a trust vote. It had adopted a wait-and-watch policy while talks for the merger were on. But once Dhinakaran rebelled, opposition leader M.K. Stalin wrote to the governor, demanding a floor test, and said that people had lost confidence in the corrupt government. The call for a trust vote is legal and has a precedent, said DMK spokesperson Saravanan Annadurai. “In the case of [former Karnataka chief minister B.S.] Yeddyurappa, a trust vote was called within six days [in 2010],” he said. “The Supreme Court had approved it in the interest of justice and constitutional propriety.”
Stalin is also trying to strengthen the opposition by bringing together leaders of other parties, like Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader Thol Thirumavalavan and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Vaiko.
“It is the prerogative of the governor to call for a trust vote. Palaniswami should now come up with a solution,” said Congress legislator S. Vijayadharini. “But, it is better that he steps down.... It is not a majority government now.”
But the DMK does not want an election now. So if the governor doesn’t call for a trust vote, Stalin could take the matter to court, which will be more advantageous to his party. Also, sources said Dhinakaran and his MLAs were not interested in toppling the government. They are only threatening to do so to negotiate with Palaniswami and Panneerselvam.
But, the AIADMK’s credibility has taken a hit. Writer and blogger A. Shankar said the party no longer had any strong leader, and the cadres might not support any of the three faction leaders for long. The infighting and lack of a strong leadership could bring down the party’s vote share of 44 per cent in the next elections. “Two or three years after it loses power, the AIADMK will turn into a small party like the MDMK or VCK,” said Shankar.
Also, the growing influence of the BJP in Tamil Nadu politics cannot be ignored. The merger between the two AIADMK camps was orchestrated by the BJP and the RSS idealogue S. Gurumurthy. “Till our Amma was around, neither [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi or [BJP chief] Amit Shah could make us fall at their feet,” said Rajenthiran Thangadurai, an AIADMK member from Thanjavur.
BJP leader H. Raja, however, denied the party’s role in the merger. “It is the internal affair of the AIADMK. They fell apart, they have now come together,” he said. “I don’t think even the MLAs supporting Dhinakaran will go to the extent of toppling the government. Ultimately, they all belong to the AIADMK and want the government to go on.” However, the BJP’s game plan is to weaken the AIADMK and run a puppet government. Its cadre base is growing, and with actor Rajinikanth eyeing a political role, it is advantage BJP in Tamil Nadu.