A lawyer and the husband of an expelled MP were roughed up outside the AIADMK headquarters in the state capital on Wednesday, a day ahead of a crucial party meeting expected to elect its new leader.
Agitated party supporters assaulted Lingeswaran Thilagan, the husband of Sasikala Pushpa, and one of her lawyers, angered by speculation that the expelled Rajya Sabha MP was planning to contest the election to the post of general secretary, currently vacant following the demise of AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa earlier this month.
General secretary is the topmost position within the AIADMK and Thursday’s annual general body meeting is likely to see Sasikala Natajaran, a long-time aide of Jayalalithaa, being elected the leader of the party.
Thursday’s meeting is scheduled to start at 9.30am at the Srivaru Kalyana Mandapam in Chennai’s affluent Vanagaram neighbourhood.
Known for their reticence, not many AIADMK leaders were willing to come on record on what was to be expected at the meeting. But C Saraswati, the party spokesperson, said Natarajan was the overwhelming choice of party workers.
“It is simply a matter of Chinnamma (Sasikala Natarajan) accepting our wishes,” she said.
“Natarajan has the support of the party, and is capable of leading us by the example Amma set,” another party leader said. “Of course she will become our next general secretary,” he added confidently.
Speculation that Natarajan would succeed Jayalalithaa had been doing the rounds ever since she and her relatives were seen keeping a vigil as the former chief minister’s body lay in state for the public to pay their respects.
O Panneerselvam, who succeeded Jayalalithaa as the chief minister, and other officials are known to meet Natarajan regularly at Poes Garden, the erstwhile residence of Jayalalithaa.
Pushpa, however, has filed a petition before the Madras high court, insisting Jayalalithaa’s former aide was ineligible for the general secretary’s post since she was not an AIADMK member for the past five years as stipulated. She was expelled in 2011 and then reinstated in 2012, the disgruntled MP has contended.
Independent commentators, however, backed Natarajan as the favourite.
“It’s clear Natarajan is calling the shots now,” said Professor Ramu Manivannan, head of the political department at the University of Madras. “But what’s interesting is that a significant percentage of the cadres are against her.”
“The party has no choice but to push her forward,” said political analyst Gnani Sankaran. “What she wants is a different matter.”