Former Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s (EPS) political future is under increasing jeopardy with his opponents in both the government and his own party, the AIADMK, attempting to corner the strongman from the western Kongu belt.
Although the AIADMK was routed in the assembly election earlier this year by the M K Stalin-led DMK, the party’s good showing in Kongu Nadu had led some analysts to predict that the outgoing CM would be able to tighten his grip on it. However, events of the past few weeks – the return of V K Sasikala, confidant of the late AIADMK leader J Jayalalitha, to frontline politics, internal party machinations and government action against some of his associates have left EPS vulnerable, according to sources.
On October 22, the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption (DVAC) carried out raids at places linked to R Elangovan, chairman, Tamil Nadu State Apex Cooperative Bank, and president, Salem District Central Cooperative Bank, for allegedly amassing disproportionate wealth of up to ₹3.78 crore. The Salem district secretary of Jayalalitha Peravai, a wing of the AIADMK, is known to be a close aide of EPS.
Furthermore, several farmer associations have alleged that this particular cooperative bank had the highest number of beneficiaries when the past AIADMK regime waived jewel and crop loans.
On October 25, police arrested two people in Salem for allegedly destroying evidence linked to the death of C Kanagaraj, the prime accused in the Kodanad heist and murder case. The two were C Dhanapal, the brother of Kanagaraj, and R Ramesh.
Kanagaraj was employed as a driver to Jayalalithaa. He died five days after the April 2017 heist at the Kodanad estate in Nilgiri district, which was used by the former AIADMK supremo as a retreat.
Kanagaraj was called the case mastermind by Sayan and Valayar Manoj, two other accused.
On the same day, AIADKM coordinator O Panneerselvam (OPS) – the deputy CM under EPS – said that the AIADMK high command would decide whether to allow Sasikala to return to the party.
Then, on Tuesday (October 26), the Salem Central Crime Branch registered a case against G Mani, who is said to be a political personal assistant to EPS, on charges of cheating. He alleged took ₹13 lakh from a man seeking a government job.
Sasikala’s Southern Connection
AMMK chief TTV Dhinakaran, nephew of Sasikala, welcomed OPS’ statement regarding his aunt. Interestingly, the younger brother of OPS, O Raja, attended the wedding reception of Dhinakaran’s daughter in Thanjavur on Wednesday (October 27), where Sasikala was present.
After the wedding reception, Sasikala will tour southern districts and is likely to attend the 59th ‘guru puja’ of U Muthuramalinga Thevar, the patriarch of the Thevar community, on October 30. Ahead of that, many AIADMK leaders like Sellur Raju, R B Udhaya Kumar, Dindigul Srinivasan, Rajan Chellappa, Rajendra Balaji and Karuppasamy Pandian have been invited to meet Sasikala. It appears that the party is now divided on caste lines – while leaders in the south are backing Sasikala, the Kongu Nadu faction is with EPS.
According to the sources, EPS wants to remove party leaders and office bearers who are in touch with Sasikala. That, however, is easier said than done. In order to remove an office-bearer, both EPS and OPS need to take a unanimous decision. On his own EPS cannot sack any party functionary.
Plan to Corner EPS
One senior party leader, J C D Prabhakar, told The Federal that there was nothing wrong in what OPS said about readmitting Sasikala.
“He said that a decision will be taken after discussions with the party high command. Doesn’t OPS have even that basic right [to make an obvious statement]? When the coordinator himself is obeying the party, there is no need to question his intention.”
Prabhakar said most of the people who are meeting Sasikala are ex-AIADMK members.
“They are mostly from the AMMK. They were all once with the AIADMK. They may still have their AIADMK card. But that doesn’t mean they are still in the party.”
Another party leader who did not want to be named said Sasikala and Dhianakaran’s allies are spreading rumours of divisions along caste lines.
“Although the AIADMK was defeated in the recent elections, nowhere has it been relegated to third place. That means EPS still has the trust of all the castes,” he said
“We [the EPS faction] won in the Kongu region, but lost in other areas. Still the perception is EPS has the upper hand. That is why Sasikala’s team is spreading such allegations – that the party is divided along caste lines,” he said.
The AIADMK leader accused the DMK government of targeting opposition leaders. “What is the government trying to convey through these raids? That it thinks it can destroy the AIADMK by going after EPS.”