The AIADMK merger talks are almost final, with O Panneerselvam possibly returning as the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister. Current Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami — who belongs to the AIADMK Amma faction led by Sasikala Natarajan, aka VK Sasikala — is expected to step down from the post and become the chief of the reunited party.
The factionalism had started soon after the death of party matriarch and then TN Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in December last year. Panneerselvam, often referred to as OPS by supporters, had taken over as chief minister. But soon Sasikala, who had taken over as AIADMK chief had him ousted — both as chief minister and from within the AIADMK. She also installed her nephew TTV Dinakaran as party deputy chief before she was sent to prison in connection with a disproportionate assets case.
The fall of Sasikala and Dinakaran
Sasikala and Dinakaran looked all set to rule their AIADMK faction as they saw fit, until the RK Nagar Assembly byelections and their surrounding events intervened. The run-up to the by-polls — which were necessitated by Jayalalithaa's death — saw cash being distributed among voters, and income-tax and other authorities raiding TN ministers. As a result, the polls were cancelled.
The EC had, in the run-up to the polls, had given the two factions different names and election symbols. Neither got the immensely recognisable Two Leaves election symbol of the undivided AIADMK. Dinakaran was subsequently booked for trying to bribe EC officials to get the symbol.
Then, when talks started of reuniting the two factions, OPS set forward the condition that Sasikala and Dinakaran be ousted from the party. After a day of putting up a brave show, the other faction relented and said they would keep the aunt and nephew away from active politics. Dinakaran tried to hold out the next day, but he too was worn down and gave in.
OPS for CM?
The next question that arose was whether OPS would return as chief minister. That seems to have been answered now, with a senior AIADMK functionary telling a newspaper: "The merger deal has been sealed and formal talks will begin now between the senior leaders of both factions to finalise and announce the decision. Palaniswami will step down for Panneerselvam, and become the party chief."
He added: "Health Minister C Vijayabaskar, whose properties were raided by Income Tax officials, may be dropped from the cabinet. Former minister and MLA Senthil Balaji may be inducted along with one or two more faces from southern Tamil Nadu."
Jayalalithaa had entrusted Panneerselvam with the reins of the state after she was convicted in a disproportionate assets case. OPS was also the choice for the post after Amma's death. With him returning to the chief minister's post, many will see it as a fulfilment of the legacy Jayalalithaa had hoped to leave behind.
That legacy could also include a temporary or permanent ouster of Sasikala and her kin from TN politics, as had happened during Amma's reign in 2012. She had taken back Sasikala into the party later, but not her relatives. It was only after her death that Sasikala brought back Dinakaran. Now, with both Sasikala and Dinakaran out of active politics, some may say Jayalalithaa's legacy is safe.