The huge posters and cutouts of VK Sasikala were pulled down from the AIADMK headquarters on Wednesday, tell-tale signs that the faction-riddled ruling party in Tamil Nadu is trying to dissociate from the jailed general secretary and her family.
The action follows the arrest of Sasikala’s nephew and deputy general secretary TTV Dinakaran on Tuesday night.
Delhi Police arrested him on the charge of trying to pay Rs 50 crore in bribes to election officials through middleman Sukesh Chandrasekar to ensure the party’s “two leaves” symbol was allotted to Sasikala’s faction — called AIADMK (Amma).
The arrest could cause a deep political impact as the Sasikala group, spearheaded by chief minister Edapaddi Palaniswami, and the AIADMK (Puratchi Thalavi Amma) of O Panneerselvam were in touch for a merger.
Panneerselvam, or OPS, was chosen to rule the southern state after AIADMK supremo and chief minister J Jayalalithaa died of illness last December 5, but the 61-year-old Sasikala replaced him quickly with her own man in a bitter power struggle that split the party.
He has given a Hobson’s choice to the rival faction for a possible merger — Jayalalithaa’s long-time confidante Sasikala must forfeit all positions in the party and her extended clan, which her rivals call the Mannargudi Mafia, should be kept away.
The chips are down for Sasikala, currently serving a four-year jail term for amassing ill-gotten wealth, and nephew Dinakaran, giving the rival faction to mount pressure on her loyalists from outside the clan to break ranks.
The legislator for Pudukottai, Rajashekaran, appeared at Panneerselvam’s home on Wednesday as speculation swirled that MLAs from the Sasikala camp could switch sides.
Barring a lone legislator, Nanjil Sampath, ministers and MLAs have chosen to keep quiet on Dinakaran’s arrest and possible merger talks. Sampath, however, rubbished the need for any such dialogue.
A senior OPS camp leader S Semmalai ruled out any formal talks on Wednesday, though he said the situation has become more conducive for the dialogue to begin. Backchannel talks were on, though.
Sources said the OPS faction held a series of discussions with chief minister Palaniswami’s emissaries, soon after Dinakaran’s arrest.
Within hours of the meeting, workers at the AIADMK headquarters in central Chennai removed cutouts and posters of Sasikala from the building and nearby areas.
“We are ready for talks, at any time the OPS camp wants to,” said CV Shanmugam, a state minister.
Panneerselvam and his aides were taking their time; aware that the advantage is on their side this time.