Everything is not fine within the AIADMK ranks. Party spokespersons may try their best to say it is, but their argument is devoid of sufficient reason.
The divide was evident when following the ‘stormy’ executive committee meeting on Monday (September 28), chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) conducted a video conference with district collectors on Covid-19 relief measures, but his deputy CM and bête noire, O Panneerselvam (OPS), was conspicuous with his absence. Insiders say he was at his house with his supporters, discussing the next move after the executive meeting failed to get him what he wanted: the CM nomination.
“There is no place for rumours here. EPS is the chief minister, so he chaired the video conferencing with the district collectors. Likewise, OPS is the coordinator of the party. He was unable to take part in the conference because he needs to focus on party issues in continuation with executive committee meeting,” said a senior party leader.
OPS was evidently put off by the EPS camp’s refusal to form a steering committee to declare the CM candidate. A video on OPS’ life and work is going vial right now. It was released on social media just after the failed executive committee meet on Monday, which is said to have strained the relationship between the two leaders. The video shows how OPS has transformed from being an urchin to a leader that he is today. This is seen as a move by OPS supporters to assert his leadership in the party.
“I was made a CM by Jayalalithaa, but you were made as CM by Sasikala,” said OPS during the meeting in strong words. In his reply, EPS said, “We both were made the CM by Sasikala.”
EPS was right. The truth is that Sasikala indeed exercised her clout in the party after Jayalalithaa’s death. It is claimed that Sasikala had cajoled Jayalalithaa to make OPS the CM in 2001, when Jayalalithaa was barred by the Supreme Court from holding chief minister’s post. The reason why OPS was made the CM then was because he not only paid obeisance to their command, but also belonged to Mukkulathor community, the same as Sasikala’s.
Yes, both the leaders were made CM by Sasikala on different occasions, but both have belittled the faith of the people of Tamil Nadu. But the two leaders seem to have forgotten that the corruption cases against them could decide their fate. If they do anything against the wishes of the BJP at the Centre, the implications on their political future could be serious.
However, EPS has been able to oscillate left and right on many issues brought by Centre and that’s why the party is often criticised as the ‘B Team’ of BJP. So far he has successfully kept the party as one. That was reflected in the words of some of the ministers during the meeting. One minister is reported to have said during Monday’s meeting that the party and the government are intact today only because of EPS. The comment was lauded by many.
It looks, however, that OPS has not accepted or understood the reality that about 80 percent of the party is leaning towards EPS and the members who supported him earlier have shifted their loyalties. When the topic of forming a 11-member steering committee came up for discuss, OPS had asked that people from his faction should be given a majority of positions in it. EPS rejected the offer saying when a majority of the party workers are on his side then how could they possibly give the OPS faction more members in the steering committee.
Finally, the deputy coordinator of the party KP Munusamy had to intervene and later declared to the media that the CM candidate of AIADMK alliance will be announced on October 7.
In case the party declares EPS as the next CM candidate, OPS will have three choices before him — Either to toe the party line or join hands with Sasikala and TTV Dhinakaran camp, which are in talks with BJP.
“The announcement will not come on October 7 too. The stalemate will continue till Sasikala comes out. Being a party coordinator, her signature is required for any party related matters. She may not give her consent to EPS as a CM candidate and play hardball instead. If AIADMK and AMMK merger does not happen and if OPS does not join the Sasikala camp, then OPS may remain in AIADMK as a coordinator. Expecting that he will be made a general secretary is meaningless. The party will not give full power to him. However he can achieve some things like getting MLA seats, some minister portfolios and MP seats for his loyalists,” said Savithri Kannan, a political observer.
As of today, if AIADMK loses the election, both EPS and OPS will lose their influence in the party. “A leader should not beg others to make him a leader, but he must make people realise that he is a leader. OPS lack that kind of guts,” added Kannan.
A senior leader who is close to these developments and a supporter of OPS said that everything is going smoothly and the CM candidate will be announced as planned. “The party is like a family. OPS is the head of the family. If he himself gets upset, the family cannot run properly. However, he himself is being pressurised and cornered. With regard to talks like he may join Sasikala camp or BJP, it’s all rumours spread by the people who are jealous” he said.
Another party spokesperson said that OPS is ready to announce EPS as next CM candidate, but he needs to do that in a proper way.
“In the past, the governing council has chosen the candidate. Likewise, OPS feels that a steering committee should announce the candidate, instead of doing it in individual capacity. Even if EPS announced as a candidate, the existing set up in the party will continue and OPS will remain as a coordinator of the party. The only regret OPS has is that most of the leaders are pointing him as a sole reason for all the commotion,” he added.