5 key questions AIADMK must answer in its 50th year
On Sunday, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), parted from Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 1972, will commence its golden jubilee celebrations. While the party has seen a lot of ups and downs in all these years, currently, it is facing an existential crisis.
Often criticised as the ‘B Team’ of the BJP, the AIADMK post-Jayalalithaa’s demise is going through a myriad number of problems such as corruption, stalemates like unable to keep allies together, ego clashes between leaders and west-south divide among second-line leaders. Because of all this, the party cadre is gradually losing faith and the base has already started staggering.
“At the national level, the Congress is the party for the richest and the BJP is for the upper castes. The Left parties which once stood for the working class are nowhere in the game. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK is playing dynasty politics. So, it is only the AIADMK which is working for the poor. Here, anyone can reach the top position. Nobody knows who will be our next leader,” Anwhar Raajhaa, a former MP and senior leader in AIADMK, told The Federal.
It is true that, albeit entangled in sycophancy and nepotism, most of the current leaders of the party moved up the ladder through sheer hard work on the ground. Often the leaders were recognised for their party welfare-related work over people welfare. Despite that they were able to earn the goodwill of the people, because of their loyalty towards the party high command.
How to understand this peculiarity? Simple enough: the party’s founder MG Ramachandran or MGR just remained a “leader” (read Thalaivar), but Jayalalithaa went one step ahead. She became ‘Amma’.
The matriarch kept the flock together all these years, till her death in late 2016. Now for the AIADMK, in its 50th year, it is important to win the confidence of the cadres and thereby save the goodwill it has earned over the years. There is a possibility that by answering five major questions that gnaw at every cadre, the party can save its face.
These five questions are: who will be the next Presidium Chairman? Is there any possibility of single leadership? The Sasikala factor? What’s the truth behind Jayalalithaa’s death? And finally, will the party emerge clean from the Kodanad case?
Why the delay in selecting Presidium Chairman?
The delay in selecting the next Presidium Chairman, after the demise of E Madusudhanan, is itself showing that there is an ego clash between O Panneerselvam (OPS), the coordinator of the party, and Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS), the co-coordinator.
Members who are in the race for Presidium Chairman include leaders from both factions. While C Ponnaiyan, KA Sengottaiyan and S Semmalai are known to be close to EPS, leaders like Dindigul Seenivasan and Natham Viswanathan from the OPS faction are also showing an interest in capturing the post.
Besides loyalty, caste also plays a role. Since no Vanniyar leader has been given a high position in the party, Vanniyar leaders like KP Anbalagan and KP Munusamy are also being discussed.
On the other hand, leaders from the minority community such as Tamil Magan Hussain and Anwhar Raajhaa are aspiring for the post. Historically, the Presidium Chairman’s post was given to leaders who had been with MGR from the time he started the party. Once there was a tradition that individuals who showed an active engagement in MGR fan clubs were promoted to the next level leadership. In that way, the names of D Jayakumar and Saidai Duraisamy are also being discussed for the post.
Over the years, though the OPS faction has tried everything to assert domination in the party, it is EPS who has had the final say in every matter – from announcing his name as CM candidate, to seat-sharing with alliance parties, to appointing a leader from his camp as a whip, etc.
Political commentator Raveendran Duraisamy said AIADMK leaders have been unable to arrive at a consensus on this matter and that’s why the delay in appointment.
“However, EPS will have an upper hand in this issue too. But if there is single leadership, the EPS faction will start to play down,” he said.
According to Raajhaa, procedural issues are causing the delay. “Party rules say only an elected general secretary can appoint the Presidium Chairman. But after the death of Jayalalithaa, that post became vacant. When there is no general secretary, the people who have power equal to a general secretary, like the coordinator and co-coordinator, should conduct a general council meeting. The general council can appoint a temporary general secretary. Then he or she should call for nominations for general secretary elections and elect a permanent general secretary, who should conduct party elections in all districts and make appointments. In that process, the first appointment will be of Presidium Chairman. This will take a long time,” he explained.
Is single leadership possible?
Time and again, this question keeps on recurring. Recently some speeches made by senior leaders in the party show that there is a need for unitary leadership. For example, last week while speaking at a function related to golden jubilee celebrations at Madurai, former minister Sellur Raju said the party is built upon its cadres’ strength and it need not depend on the leadership.
Interestingly, those who calls for single leadership are from the southern parts of Tamil Nadu where OPS has a stronghold. While leaders from the western belt are mum on this issue, leaders from Chennai region like Jayakumar feel the demand of dual leadership is unwanted.
After Jayalalithaa’s death, OPS had initially become chief minister of Tamil Nadu. But he was forced out in early 2017 and, with her arrest for corruption imminent, Amma’s close aide VK Sasikala ensured that EPS became CM. In August 2017, however, EPS and OPS together expelled Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran from the AIADMK.
In Jayalalithaa’s time, there were high-level committees to study every issue and give their recommendations to Amma who would take the call. But, said a leader, “today, we have nothing like that. Everything is decided by EPS, since he has the party’s money in his hand”.
According to former AIADMK MP KC Palanisamy, if the current leadership doesn’t win the urban local body polls, which are expected to be conducted shortly, they cannot continue in their positions.
“Take the case of Karunanidhi, MGR and Jayalalithaa. When (former CM) Karunanidhi came to lead DMK after the death of CN Annadurai, in 1975 he won the elections with a thumping majority. Similarly, when MGR contested the elections in 1977, he won and ruled the state continuously for 10 years. After the death of MGR in 1987, Jayalalithaa took over the party and won the 1991 elections. So, whenever a new leadership has taken control, they have won the next elections. But in the case of EPS and OPS, they lost the 2019 parliamentary elections, then they lost the rural local body polls. If this continues, then they will be thrown out,” he said.
The Sasikala factor
During her return from Bengaluru to Chennai this February, Sasikala wanted to pay her tributes at the memorial of Jayalalithaa. But the memorial was closed immediately after its inauguration over pending construction works.
While her return was creating a flutter in party circles, she kept a low profile for some time. Ahead of the Tamil Nadu state polls, Sasikala came out with a statement in March that she was stepping aside from politics. Then in May, audio tapes released by her camp had Sasikala providing much hope to some of her supporters that she may make a comeback.
It was in this backdrop that her faction sought police protection on October 13 to prevent any untoward incidence when she arrived at Amma’s memorial in Chennai to pay her tributes, which she did on Saturday and was found teary-eyed.
Will she take over the AIADMK? Though both EPS and OPS have vociferously said in the past that there is no place for Sasikala in the party, it appears the OPS faction is keeping the murmurs low following her visit to console him after his wife’s death in September.
With the poor performance of the party in the recently-conducted local body polls, the question of Sasikala’s return has risen again. Some in the cadres have started to feel that if Sasikala takes over, everything will be set right.
To the question of whether Sasikala will be an alternative and can she be the sole leader of the party, Palanisamy rules out the possibility.
“She is unfit to be a leader. However, the AIADMK cannot neglect her. Maybe she can be allowed in the party and given some honorary post. That will strengthen the party to some level,” he said.
Mystery of Jayalalithaa’s death
Above everything else, the AIADMK has to answer the question behind the mystery surrounding the matriarch’s death.
Following Jayalalithaa’s death and the chain of events it caused, the EPS government formed a one-man commission headed by Justice Arumugasamy in September 2017 to look into the matter, but even after 10 extensions, the commission has not submitted its report.
When the DMK came to power in Tamil Nadu, it approached the Supreme Court to probe the case further. Now, the commission has got its 11th extension and is expected to submit it report by November-end.
“It is OPS who wanted a probe in this case. But he himself doesn’t appear before the commission to make a deposition. He is unreliable. One day he will oppose the DMK and the next day he will praise Karunanidhi and (chief minister MK) Stalin. This kind of juggling has created a furore among the cadres,” said Palanisamy.
Kodanad – an area of darkness
While the OPS faction is repeatedly facing failure on all accounts, it strongly has faith in one issue that can help OPS emerge from all the losses, and that is the Kodanad case.
With DMK pursuing the Kodanad case in a faster way, the OPS faction believes that EPS can be cornered and put into silent mode. The ongoing investigations and court hearings are slowly casting doubts over some leaders from the Kongu belt, and the result of the probe will definitely put the AIADMK into another fix. Whether the output will help the OPS is to be seen.
“The cadres believe there is some role played by EPS in this case. Because of that, they are hesitant to do groundwork for them,” Palanisamy said.