The AIADMK’s announcement that Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) will be its chief ministerial candidate in the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections will not put an end to the rivalry between him and deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam (OPS). The party will see many stormy days ahead in the run up to the elections, experts said.
While the CM candidate has been announced and an 11-member steering committee has formed, Palaniswami’s candidature and the decisions of the committee must be approved by the party’s general council meeting. OPS could make things difficult for Palaniswami since his signature is necessary to ratify the decisions taken by the steering committee. There are speculations within the party that OPS may seek abolition of the joint coordinator’s post currently held by EPS and that he may demand more seats and important cabinet portfolios for his loyalists.
Observers, however, said it is doubtful if OPS will be able to have his say since the steering committee is filled with mostly EPS loyalists. Also, the general council’s approval in needed to bring any changes in bylaws. OPS would would find the going difficult as most party members are now leaning towards EPS, they said.
“The supporters of OPS are dissatisfied. However, OPS has very little options. If he chooses to resign, the full control of the party will go to the joint coordinator,” said political observer Tharasu Shyam. He, however, said steering committee should not have been formed. “This needed a change in the party’s bylaws. According to People’s Representative Act, if the party acted against its bylaws, anyone can approach the court against the decision,” he said. “The steering committee can be added in the bylaws only after the general council gives its approval.”
But it is clear that the BJP had no role in the AIADMK’s decision. Speaking to Puthiya Thalaimurai, senior BJP leader Pon Radhakrishnan said the AIADMK has only announced its CM candidate, not the candidate of the AIADMK alliance. “In 2021, the government will be formed by the party that allies with the BJP. The alliance’s chief ministerial candidate can be decided then,” he said.
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Fisheries minister D Jayakumar, a member of the steering committee, dismissed allegations that there were differences in the constitution of the steering committee. “All the members were chosen based on consensus,” he said.
But political observers believe the committee can be expanded or new committees such as election preparedness committees can be formed to accommodate women and other senior leaders who didn’t find a place in the core committee.
The AIADMK has so far been distancing itself from any association with Sasikala.
When media persons asked how the Sasikala factor will play out in the coming days, senior AIADMK leader Ponnaiyan said there is no relationship between the party and Sasikala.
Shyam, however, believes she will be a big factor. The BJP will force the AIADMK to include Sasikala because she commands considerable Mukkulathor votes, he said.
“OPS has never been an icon of the Mukkulathors. Dhinakaran may not be in favour of merging his party with the AIADMK. He may, however, be open to an alliance. If the AIADMK keeps Sasikala out, there are chances that some leaders may form a separate faction under her. Then the BJP will support the Sasikala faction saying it is the official AIADMK. But nobody knows what Sasikala is thinking,” he said.
The days ahead will prove to be the real test for the leaders as they try to establish themselves as the unanimous choice of the party, Shyam said.
The party has been divided on who would be the next chief minister. On August 10, Sellur K Raju, minister for co-operation, had said that as far as the AIADMK is concerned, whoever is elected as the legislative party leader after the election will be the chief minister. However, the very next day, while addressing the media, KT Rajendra Balaji, the minister for dairy development, had said that EPS would be the next chief minister.
To put an end to the dispute, the party convened a high-level meeting on September 18 to discuss the chief ministerial candidate. But the party failed to make a decision and EPS and OPS issued a joint statement saying leaders should refrain from making comments about the next CM candidate.
There was high drama during the executive committee meeting on September 28, where EPS and OPS were involved in verbal spats. While the supporters of EPS wanted the CM candidate to be announced during the meeting, by OPS faction opposed any such move.
Some leaders had then told The Federal that while OPS was ready to announce EPS as the next CM candidate, he wanted it to be decided after an 11-member steering committee is formed.
But both the leaders had differences of opinion in the formation of the steering committee. While OPS wanted his supporters to be in majority in the committee, EPS rejected the demand saying it will be impossible to give majority to the OPS faction when he has the support of most of the ministers and loyalists. In the end, it was decided that the CM candidate would be announced on October 7.
Now, with EPS being made the party’s CM candidate, some observers suggested that OPS could resign and joining hands with TTV Dhinakaran or surrender himself to the BJP.