The ruling AIADMK (Amma) is battling twin troubles in Tamil Nadu, with a group of senior leaders rising in revolt against party deputy secretary TTV Dinakaran and an aggressive DMK piling pressure on the government.
Sources said calls were getting louder for Dinakaran to step down after the election commission cancelled the RK Nagar assembly byelection following the cash-for-vote scandal.
Dinakaran, a nephew of general secretary VK Sasikala who is serving time in a corruption case, is the party’s RK Nagar candidate.
The seat fell vacant after the death of chief minister J Jayalalithaa on December 5 and the bypoll has turned into a battle for her legacy between Sasikala, her aide of almost 30 years, and O Panneerselvam, a loyalist.
With health minister C Vijayabaskar, who is close to Sasikala, in trouble with tax authorities and three other ministers booked for intimidating income-tax officials, many in the party want the ministers to be dropped.
It were the IT raids against Vijayabaskar that sealed the fate of the byelection. Documents seized during raids showed the Sasikala faction gave Rs 4,000 to every voter in the north Chennai locality, sources said. Around Rs 89 crore were distributed among the voters of the constituency, twice represented by Jayalalithaa.
Dinakaran has denied the talk of rift or action against Vijayabaskar, who was among the ministers who kept the flock together and help the Sasikala group take over the party and the government after Jayalalithaa’s death, crushing the Panneerselvam faction’s power bid.
The Sasikala family’s control, however, could face a challenge in the coming days. Back channel talks were on between senior leaders of the two factions to “save the party”, sources said.
There was a growing resentment against Sasikala and her family’s stranglehold of the party. “Dinakaran spent so much money in RK Nagar that it attracted I-T raids and focus on Vijayabaskar, who was already on I-T radar,” said a leader unwilling to be named.
The AIADMK (Amma) has 122 MLAs in the 234-member assembly and the Panneerselvam faction AIADMK Puratchi Thalavi Amma has 11.
But none want the government to fall, as it would strengthen the opposition DMK, which is trying to rope in smaller parties in case of a snap election.
DMK working president MK Stalin also has 2019 Lok Sabha election on mind. He is on Sunday hosting an all-party meeting to discuss the prevailing farm crisis that has brought protesting farmers to Delhi.
The DMK is holding the Centre and the state’s Palaniswami government responsible for the farmer distress. “The OPS faction, too, cannot escape the blame,” Stalin has said.
Poor rains have left Tamil Nadu battling a severe drought. The government had in January declared all the state’s 32 districts drought-hit and sought help from the Centre. The situation is similar in the neighbouring states of Kerala and Karnataka.
The Madras high court recently asked the state government to expand its farm loan waiver scheme to include farmers who own more than five acres, a move expected to help thousands of people.