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What cannot be cured, must be endured, especially in the AIADMK party. This is the moral of the story for the broken and bruised AIADMK camp, divided sharply between the Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) and O Panneerselvam (OPS) groups.

Today’s AIADMK general council meeting, where the number two leader EPS was expected to be anointed as the new general secretary, sidelining party’s number one leader OPS, ended as a damp squib as OPS stand that the present status quo arrangment of deal leadership (OPS-EPS) cannot be altered was upheld by the Madras High Court ruling which came in the early hours of the day, just a few hours prior to the commencement of the GC meet. The reality now is that both OPS and EPS, much as they hate each other, have to be reconciled to working together. Inmathi.com had predicted that OPS would seek legal remedy to block EPS, as the last step to prevent a formal split in the party.

The High Court ruling is significant in many ways. It not only strengthens the stand of OPS regarding the agreement and functioning of dual leadership as against EPS’ claim of single leader (that is himself) for now, but also makes it extremely difficult for the EPS group to hold a GC meet on its terms. Although EPS got the newly-elected presidium chairman Tamil Magan Hussain to announce that the GC would meet again on July 11 in Chennai, which meeting would take up pending matters, the HC ruling means that the approval of Co-Co-ordinator OPS would be required to convene the party meeting, and that no resolution without his approval can be moved in the meeting.

EPS did command majority support at today’s GC meeting but OPS has planted enough landmines in the path of the former that the party would be locked up in intense and fierce legal battles at the High Court and presumably the Supreme Court

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EPS did command majority support at today’s GC meeting but OPS has planted enough landmines in the path of the former that the party would be locked up in intense and fierce legal battles at the High Court and presumably the Supreme Court as well over the next few months, which would be a painful action replay of the events in 1987-88 after the death of party founder MGR and in early 2017 after the death of former CM, J Jayalalithaa.  Though OPS and EPS patched up with the latter continuing as CM, while OPS had to rest content with the post of Deputy CM and number one in the party as Co-Cordinator, they continued to be locked in frequent tussles. Added to the problem was the re-appearance of Jaya’s aide Sasikala Natarajan on the scene, on release from Bengaluru prison after conviction in the Disproportionate Assets case, and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran striking an independent path through his new breakaway party, AMMK.

(Photo Credit: O Panneerselvam twitter handle)

OPS lost the support of his key aides as he could not fetch them important positions in the party, while his pro-Sasikala stance irked some of his associates. The latter deserted him, some earlier and a few others in the last two days as they found OPS outnumbered. The pro-Sasikala plank of OPS resulted in the weakening of his group, while these members joined the EPS group, not out of love or respect or him, but to strengthen the anti-Sasikala block.

The scene of the battle could now move to the SC, where the EPS group would expect the BJP leadership to bail it out. In the normal course, with most of the SC decisions in the last few years going in favour of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre, the EPS group can hope that the BJP would help it. However, the BJP seems to be playing a different ball-game altogether.

Having forced the EPS group to accept the OPS condition for merger in 2017 — expulsion of Sasikala and her family members including Dhinakaran from the AIADMK — , the BJP made a U-turn ahead of the 2019 LS polls by asking the AIADMK leadership to take back Sasikala and co., in the party and prevent a division of votes. The EPS group opposed the suggestion as EPS feared his ouster if Sasikala came back to the party. OPS seems to be on the same page as the BJP, for another reason, that he needs the consolidation of the Thevar group (to which both he and Sasikala belong) in southern TN to counter the Gounder lobby of the EPS group from the western belt of Tamil Nadu.

Political observers also feel that the BJP is keen to keep the pot boiling and have the AIADMK as a divided house so that the AIADMK symbol of  two-leaves can be frozen by the Election Commission, and make attempts to become the number two party in the State by weaning away AIADMK leaders to its fold. The BJP has done this in several States. and the strategy of shining in borrowed feathers may well be in action in TN as well.

It is now a Catch-22 situation for the AIADMK, as it needs the GC to sideline OPS and elevate EPS but it cannot convene such a meeting or include such a resolution in its agenda without the approval of OPS

The irony is that EPS has shown no urgency in trying to counter the DMK and build a powerful alliance against the ruling party in TN  though the party has, under his leadership, failed in four successive elections. Similarly, OPS too concentrates more on moves and counter-moves against the EPS camp rather than the DMK. Both EPS and OPS have forgotten their real enemy, the DMK, and are training guns on each other.  Their followers hardly realise this and keep their leaders happy in their pursuit of post and pelf.

It is now a Catch-22 situation for the AIADMK, as it needs the GC to sideline OPS and elevate EPS but it cannot convene such a meeting or include such a resolution in its agenda without the approval of OPS, as things stand. Therefore, EPS has suffered a set-back, having dreamt of becoming party general secretary today. EPS continues to languish in an imaginary world where if he is nominated as CM candidate of the party, he has become CM, or if he becomes general secretary, he can become CM. Both EPS and OPS have not realised that they don’t have the charisma of an MGR or a Jayalalithaa (built on film glamour). OPS has won this round, although emerging as a considerably weakened leader.  For all practical purposes, the AIADMK party has suffered a vertical split today. They have reached the point of no return.


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