Even as the AIADMK has begun the process of identifying its candidates for the Assembly elections due in a couple of months in Tamil Nadu, party seniors are worried over the possibility of rebellion and revolt within its ranks, and not just from its allies.
What chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami (EPS) has not bargained for is that the party would have to give up nearly one-third of the seats it contested in 2016 when Jayalalithaa virtually went it alone, barring a few seats to some minor allies. What adds to the problem is that 123 sitting MLAs would expect renomination while the O Panneerselvam (OPS) group would demand seats on par with the EPS group.
The AIADMK camp is jittery over the price it would have to pay if it acts tough with the MLAs and decides to drop quite a few over non-performance or charges faced by them. The AIADMK can ill-afford to change and chop at this stage, when the rival AMMK is waiting to lure them. The OPS group, which has an equal presence as the EPS group in the party Steering Committee, would not be satisfied with anything less than 40 percent of the seats to be contested by the AIADMK.
Assuming that the ruling party would like to contest 160 of the 234 seats up for grabs, the OPS group would want at least 64 of these seats, leaving only 96 for the others, as against the fact that there are 123 sitting MLAs in all. This means that at least 25 sitting MLAs would not get the tickets this time.
The AIADMK is also shocked that some of its allies have hinted at being keen on seats which were won by the AIADMK in 2016. For instance, the BJP list, unofficially circulated through media leaks, has several constituencies which have AIADMK MLAs.
The PMK, which could be an important ally of the AIADMK, has not yet indicated the number of seats it would want to contest as it wants the ruling party to first agree to the demand for a sub-quota for Vanniyars within the MBC list. Unofficially, it has indicated that it will contest most of the seats in its Vanniyar strongholds in northern Tamil Nadu and will not accept seats in areas where it is considered weak. This means that in northern Tamil Nadu, AIADMK may not get enough seats to contest, which could cause a mini-revolt in the party.
One reason why Palaniswami left for an early election campaign (without allies) was that he was irritated by pressure from the allies for exorbitant claims of seats (the other reason was he wanted to be declared CM candidate before Sasikala’s return to Chennai from Bengaluru prison). The pressure has peaked now with the BJP insisting on nearly 40 seats including seats won by the AIADMK in 2016. The BJP is also keen on the post of deputy chief minister for the party besides a few cabinet posts.
The allies are in no hurry to seal an arrangement with the AIADMK and would prefer to let the pressure build on Palaniswami because his desperation is visible.
In a week or two, the AIADMK could be rocked by intense jockeying and groupism as ministers and MLAs will lock horns with their own partymen in virtually every constituency. While ministers may have an easier time, the EPS and OPS groups besides others would be engaged in a face-off in almost all the districts. The stranglehold that some ministers, especially in the western belt, have over the party may be a sore point for several claimants, as the former may try to push the claims of their own supporters.
The AIADMK also faces pressure from several castes which resent the domination of the Gounders in the Kongu belt. The Thevars may well retaliate with a demand for major share of the seats in the South, with the backing of OPS. The minor castes thus face the risk of being marginalized by these two dominant castes. Such excessive casteism could also cause a backlash from other castes and even derail the prospects of the AIADMK if not corrected at the time of ticket distribution.
EPS thus finds himself in a political quagmire.