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In what looks  like a game of one-upmanship, Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) has successfully leveraged the AIADMK General Council to strip rival party coordinator O. Panneerselvam (OPS) of the top party post and effectively cut him down to size

In the on-going political chess game, EPS is expected to move his counters strategically to consolidate his edge over rivals, to leave OPS totally helpless and powerless, depriving him of the post of Deputy Leader of Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Assembly too.

As part of his strategy, EPS, in his capacity as Leader of Opposition, has written to the Speaker of the Assembly, informing the latter that Deputy Leader of Opposition OPS and MLAs supporting him —  Vaithilingam and Manoj Pandian — have been removed from the primary membership of the AIADMK.

As the opposition AIADMK has 64 MLAs, most of whom support EPS, the interim general secretary of the party, EPS, is expected to convene a meeting of party MLAs soon and replace OPS as Deputy Leader of the Opposition. However, it is up to the Assembly Speaker M.P. Appavu to take a call on the issue of recognizing the AIADMK’s dissident MLAs led by OPS as a separate group.

The closure of the AIADMK head office has a history dating back to 1988 when the party split into two factions, one led by Janaki Ramachandran, wife of MGR, and the other by Jayalalithaa

The OPS faction has got support from one Lok Sabha MP and one Rajya Sabha MP whereas EPS has the backing of three Rajya Sabha members.

The only silver lining, so to speak, on the dark horizon for OPS is that though EPS has achieved the new-found glory of becoming the supreme  leader or general secretary of the party, he is unable to bask in the glory, and sit in the much coveted seat occupied once by the party’s erstwhile charismatic leaders MGR and Jayalalithaa as the party headquarters at Royapettah in Chennai have  been sealed following clashes between rival cadre that broke out near the premises on Monday.

With both factions staking claim to the party office, the issue will now have to be settled in court. Even after a court ruling, the permission of the RDO will have to be obtained before a possible re-entry into the premises.

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EPS dominates but OPS has legal grip over AIADMK party

For long term political watchers, the latest happenings in the AIADMK evoke a feeling of déjà vu. The closure of the AIADMK head office has a history dating back to 1988 when the party split up into two factions – one led by Janaki Ramachandran, wife of MGR, and another by Jayalalithaa.

Again the party office remained shut for a while in 1990 when Tirunavukkarasar, one of the frontline leaders then, was about to make an exit.  However, the court came to the rescue of Jayalalithaa who  got control of the party office and remained the undisputed party leader till her demise in 2016.  Now, after over three decades, the party head office has, for the third time, been sealed.

As of now, the only trump card available for OPS is to have the Election Commission and the court freeze the party symbol of ‘Two Leaves.’  

In addition to the courts, the issue of control over the party and its HQ will also be decided by the the Election Commission of India on whether the tit-for-tat dismissals of each other by OPS and EPS are valid or not.

It is worth recalling that back in 1988, the party’s election symbol ‘Two Leaves’ was frozen as a sequel to the feud between the Janaki and Jayalalithaa factions.  In a repeat, after Jayalalithaa’s death, TTV Dhinakaran, who had rubbed both EPS and OPS on the wrong side, went to the extent of fighting in the Supreme Court to get the party symbol frozen. But, his efforts proved futile, and he had no other option but to float his own party.

Therefore, despite  EPS’ enormous clout over most  AIADMK functionaries and legislators, his seemingly powerful faction faces the threat of not being to use the party symbol albeit for a short period. And that, as of now, is the only trump card available for OPS — to have the Election Commission and the court freeze the iconic ‘Two Leaves’  symbol.  It is not clear how the two adjudicatory bodies will interfere in the intra-party affairs.  It is uncertain, though, that OPS will get back his party coordinator post that he was stripped of at the general council meeting.

Born of a split
Splits and fissures have haunted the AIADMK which, in fact, came into being as a result of one such divide. MGR, who was treasurer in the DMK in the early 1970s, found himself on a collision course with the party high command, particularly his close friend M. Karunanidhi, the party supremo. In a huff, he declared himself as the ‘true DMK’ at a public meeting on  Lloyds Road in Chennai.

However, MGR did not walk the talk, despite the impression given earlier that he would try to capture the leadership of the DMK. Instead, in 1972 he floated a new party and on his own symbol of ‘Two Leaves’ contested the elections in 1977. Subsequently, his party romped home to victory. Since then divisions and splits have shadowed the party.

With his death triggering a leadership vacuum in the AIADMK, his wife Janaki tried to take over the party, competing for his legacy with her rival Jayalalithaa. But time was to decide otherwise. Despite enjoying the support of most of party MLAs, Janaki could not continue as Chief Minister. After 23 days in power, she was ousted. Then, she contested the 1989 elections on the symbol of ‘Dove’ but came a cropper, ringing the curtains down on her short-lived political career. Her rival Jayalalithaa, contesting the polls on the symbol of ‘Cock’, bagged 32 seats in the Assembly and consequently became the Leader of Opposition after taking over the party leadership. The rest is history.

Now, the questions are: Will EPS go the way of Janaki, who also had an enormous support from party functionaries? Or will he, as the Opposition Leader Jayalalithaa did in 1989, go in the footsteps of their beloved Amma, getting the popular mandate and coming out as the single undisputed leader of the party? These queries can be answered only in the future elections.

While EPS wields enormous clout with most AIADMK functionaries and legislators, his seemingly powerful faction is afraid of a repeat of the situation in which the party’s ‘Two leaves’ symbol could not be used during byelections

Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu BJP leader Annamalai and PMK leader Dr. Ramadoss have congratulated EPS on becoming the interim general secretary of the AIADMK. Whether the BJP high command, which had once supported OPS behind the scenes, will rally behind EPS in a volte-face, will be known down the line.

As for OPS, perhaps tired of playing a second fiddle in the party, will he fall back on Sasikala or continue to function as the leader of the dissident faction? The questions are irrelevant as the writing on the wall for him is very clear. Unless he gets the support of his partymen and proves his mettle in the future elections, he will likely lose even his second-in-command position.

At this juncture, it is worth recalling the words Jayalalithaa often quoted from the Saivite saint-poet Thirunavukkarasar aka Appar:  “Nothing to fear and nothing comes calling to strike fear.”

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