Talks between AIADMK factions on verge of collapse over demand to oust Sasikala, Dinakaran
Merger talks between two warring factions of Tamil Nadu’s ruling party are on the verge of collapse over a demand to oust VK Sasikala and excise the influence her extended family holds over the government and party.
After hectic backchannel negotiations for weeks, the two sides – led by chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami on behalf of jailed Sasikala and the other by former chief minister O Panneerselvam – appear to be going in different directions.
The Panneerselvam camp is firm in its demand that Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dinakaran, who is in a Delhi jail on charges of attempting to bribe election commission officials, must be ousted from the party formally if the merger talks are to commence.
OPS, as the former chief minister is known, has time and again reiterated this demand and said that “this is non-negotiable.” The other pre-condition is a CBI probe into the death of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa after her 75-day hospitalisation in Chennai last year.
But the ruling faction of the AIADMK appears to be in no mood to consider these two pre-conditions.
Chief minister Palaniswami blamed the former chief minister and his team for “putting up conditions and changing them now and then as if to signal that they don’t want a merger.”
Addressing party office bearers and cadres in Salem on Sunday, the chief minister declared that he was running out of patience with the attitude of the OPS camp and his outburst indicated that merger was now relegated to the background.
“Ours is a running government and we have full support of 123 MLAs. And ninety per cent of the party’s office bearers were with our party,” Palaniswami said.
Finance minister D Jayakumar had been claiming that “we are always ready for talks, if and when OPS group wants. They are only delaying and we don’t know why.”
Another indication of growing distance between the two factions is the declaration of a mass campaign by OPS.
The former chief minister will be starting a mass contact programme across Tamil Nadu from May 5. This will also be used as a campaign for the forthcoming local body elections. OPS will tour all the 32 districts and could even appoint district office bearers for the party.
The crisis in Tamil Nadu began after OPS rebelled against Sasikala, a long-time confidante of Jayalalithaa who was tipped to take over as chief minister. The party split ahead of assembly bypolls in Chennai’s RK Nagar last month – which was scrapped following allegations of large-scale financial irregularities and bribing. Sasikala is in jail on corruption charges but her, along with her extended family – known derisively as the Mannargudi Mafia – are said to still wield considerable influence on the party.