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AIADMK merger: In fight to regain ‘two leaves’, the party could lose govt

The EPS-OPS factions’ merger is expected to help AIADMK regain the party symbol, but Dinakaran could upset the plan if MLAs on his side pull the government down

opinion Updated: Aug 23, 2017 11:51 IST
AIADMK,merger of AIADMK factions,AIADMK merger
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and Dy CM O Panneerselvam paying tributes at the memorial of J Jayalalithaa following merger of their factions, Chennai, August 21(PTI)

A month after the death of Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, I was in a remote village in the hilly southern part of the state, in the constituency of O Panneerselvam, leader of one of the factions of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).

Jayalalithaa’s long-time companion V Sasikala, now in a Bengaluru prison, was expected to contest to the assembly from there. I asked a young woman if she would vote for Sasikala. The woman said, “retta ilaikku thaan (my vote is for the twin leaves). Even if you contest on the twin leaves symbol, I will vote for you because it is the symbol of that maharaasan MGR (the noble man MGR).”

This woman would not have been born when the AIADMK founder and matinee idol MG Ramachandran died in 1987.

Such is the hold the ‘twin leaves’ has on the rural masses, who form the major vote-bank of the AIADMK. When the symbol was frozen by the election commission for the first time in the late 1980s after a split that followed MGR’s death, both the party factions were routed in the polls paving the way for the return of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) to power after 13 years.

This scenario can be repeated now. Hence the merger of the factions led by OPS and current chief minister Edappadi Oalaniswami, the first step to retrieve the symbol though there are still legal hurdles.

The main hurdle is that the symbol can only be claimed by an elected general secretary of the party or, in his or her absence, by an elected deputy general secretary. Enter Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dinakaran, who hold the posts. Now the AIADMK has to convene a general body meeting to oust them, though a case filed by the OPS group challenging the election of Sasikala as general secretary is pending before the election commission.

Dinakaran says he has the support of 26 MLAs, 18 of them met governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao on Tuesday and reported that they were withdrawing support to EPS’ government.

DMK working president and Opposition leader MK Stalin has said that he will move a no-confidence motion in the assembly. EPS is now left with the support of just 115 MLAs – two short of a majority. And more could desert him.

All was well with the EPS government, which survived a trust vote in February with the support of 122 MLAS, till Dinakaran said he would contest the RK Nagar bypolls , a seat left vacant after the demise of Jayalalithaa. It was clear that he wanted to be the chief minister. High drama followed. He was arrested on charges of trying to bribe unnamed election commission officials to get back the two leaves symbol. When he came out on bail, trouble started to brew for EPS who had started to assert his authority and independence. A week ago he announced that Dinakaran was expelled from the party and as deputy general secretary.

The BJP, which is keen to secure a foothold in Tamil Nadu, has been active too in the vacuum left by Jayalalithaa’s death and DMK chief Karunanidhi’s illness. Initially, the BJP appeared to back OPS, who seemed to have the support of the masses, but this proved an illusion. With OPS himself looking for a face-saving measure, the leaders of the two factions met Prime Minister Narendra Modi separately. The merger followed.

With Stalin looking to the Congress, the BJP would naturally like to have the unified AIADMK in its fold. There is already speculation that the unified AIADMK may join the NDA government with some Cabinet posts. In the 2019 elections, the BJP could press for an alliance with the AIADMK on its own terms along with some other parties like the Pattali Makkal Katchi, whose presence in the state cannot be ignored.

However, the DMK could have the last laugh. Stalin may not try to form the government, if Dinakaran topples his one. The DMK would prefer fresh elections as the present political scenario, according to opinion polls, favours it. Without power, EPS might find it difficult to keep his flock together. Some political analysts say that Dinakaran himself would not like to rock the boat now as it may not be favourably looked upon by the BJP. He may try to find a compromise as the MLAs are aware that in the absence of Jayalalithaa, this is their last chance to be in power. And Dinakaran may strike a bargain and after getting what he wants he may merge his faction too.

But what do the people say? That will be known only during the next polls, whenever they are.

Sampath Kumar is on the faculty of the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Aug 23, 2017 11:51 IST