With reunification moves between the warring factions of the AIADMK picking up steam, the talks that were hitherto held as back channel discussions have moved to a formal platform.
TTV Dinakaran’s announcement to step aside, after the majority group within the Sasikala camp decided to keep her family away from party affairs has set the stage for the merger.
The single major issue between the two groups had been O Panneerselvam’s (OPS) insistence that no one from the Sasikala family should have anything to do with the party affairs.
While a number of ministers and MLAs from the Sasikala faction had come around to the view that both Sasikala and Dinakaran needed to be eased out of the party, they were still divided on how to go about achieving it. Many of them owed their MLA seats to Sasikala and so preferred an amicable parting of ways rather than a showdown.
At stake is the future of the state government which could fall if the Sasikala camp is able to command the support of 18-plus MLAs and wishes to go for a showdown.
On Tuesday, after the ministers’ announcement, only eight MLAs trooped to Dinakaran’s residence in a show of support. On Wednesday, Dinakaran announced that he would stay away in the interests of the party and it does look like the family has decided to avoid a confrontation for now. So there may be no immediate threat to the government.
The key issues that now remain relate to who holds the powerful posts in the government and the party—the Tamil Nadu chief minister and AIADMK general secretary.
Vettrivel, an MLAs in the Sasikala camp has alleged that OPS had made several demands, including plum ministerial portfolios for his men.
Significantly when asked if Dinakaran would continue to remain the deputy general secretary of the party, Jayakumar said that the issue was not discussed and never once affirmed his support for Dinakaran or Sasikala. Ministers who were asked the question on Tuesday also continued to remain non-committal on the issue.
If the factions reunite as expected, the chances of the party general secretary post being with one group and the chief minister’s post with the other group remain a likely possibility.
There is also speculation on having a deputy chief minister from a rival faction and plumping for a party elder as the general secretary.
The pressure has now shifted on to OPS. Now that his main demand has been conceded and his second major demand of a probe into the demise of Jayalalithaa is also likely to be granted, he will be seen as being ambitious and a spoiler if he holds out just for the chief minister’s chair. Also the support of the 11 MLAs with him cannot be taken for granted anymore now that the Sasikala family is not in the picture.
The present AIADMK government has another four years of its term still to run with the late Jayalalithaa having led the party to victory in May last year. The primary focus of both sides now is to prevent a split in the party that could threaten the survival of the Government.
In the wings waits the DMK with 89 MLAs in the assembly. They will surely sense an opportunity if the easing out of Sasikala family from AIADMK does not go smoothly and the party splits. The DMK has been out of power for six years and faces another four more in the opposition, a prospect that it hardly fancies.
The role of the central government and the ruling BJP in orchestrating the events in Tamil Nadu has been widely discussed. The relentless pressure being put on the Sasikala camp with the IT raids on health minister Vijayabaskar, the EC charge of money distribution in the now-cancelled RK Nagar bypoll and the Delhi Police charge of Dinakaran allegedly trying to bribe the EC for the party’s two leaves symbol have taken a toll on the ministers and senior leaders of the party who have come to believe that the pressure would be maintained as long as the family was running the party. Some ministers feared they would be the next target and so may have moved quickly to jettison Sasikala and Dinakaran.
Over the coming week there will be some hard bargaining but it is in the interests of both sides that an amicable settlement is arrived at, and expectations are that it will be. There’s also the matter of governance which has taken a back seat for the last several months thanks to all the politicking. A plethora of issues needs urgent government attention and it is high time the AIADMK government focuses again on governing the state.
(Author is a Chennai-based political analyst. Views expressed are personal)