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Despite having near total control over the AIADMK general council and legislature party, the BJP seems to be mounting pressure on former chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami (EPS) to join hands with his former deputy O Panneerselvam (OPS). It is to be seen if he would risk losing the party symbol ‘Two Leaves’ and more importantly, earn the wrath of the BJP leadership to fulfil his objective of emerging as the sole leader of the AIADMK.
The Election Commission of India (ECI), which came to a quick conclusion on the Shiv Sena split in Maharashtra and froze the symbol ‘Bow and arrow’, has not acted on Palaniswami’s petition that he has the support of 2,550 of the 2,661 general council members. His rival Panneerselvam has not made any attempt to show that he has the backing of a majority of the general council members, making it clear that he did not have the numbers on his side.
Speaking to reporters outside the Assembly recently, Palaniswami cited the Shiv Sena split in Maharashtra and the Speaker’s decision to accept Eknath Shinde as the leader of the legislature party since he had more MLAs on his side. But what he failed to mention was the fact that the ECI had frozen the Shiv Sena symbol as a result of the feud and there is a possibility of a similar verdict in the AIADMK case too.
During the earlier split between the two groups after Panneerselvam quit the party along with 10 MLAs, the ECI had frozen the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol on the eve of the RK Nagar by-elections even though Palaniswami, then chief minister, had the support of 123 legislature members and a majority of the general council members. Even after the merger, the ECI had ordered that the ‘Two Leaves’ would be granted to the faction headed by presidium chairman E. Madhusudhanan and treasurer Panneerselvam. Madhusudhanan has since passed away and Mr. Panneerselvam now has the claim for the symbol as a former treasurer or the present co-ordinator since the validity of the AIADMK general council, which elected Mr. Palaniswami as the interim general secretary, is yet to be decided by the Supreme Court.
Speaking to reporters outside the Assembly recently, Palaniswami cited the Shiv Sena split in Maharashtra and the Speaker’s decision to accept Eknath Shinde as the leader of the legislature party since he had more MLAs on his side
Amidst reports of BJP leaders advising Palaniswami to unite with Panneerselvam, the former visited Delhi and met Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Immediately, after the meeting, he strongly denied that politics was discussed at the meeting and stated that the discussion was about his demand on linking the Godavari and Cauvery rivers. It is not known why the river linking project was discussed with the Union Home Minister alone and the Union Water Resources [Jal Shakti] Minister was totally ignored.
However, after his return to Tamil Nadu, Mr Palaniswami responding to questions of BJP intervention in AIADMK feud declared that no party should intervene in the affairs of other parties and every party should be run by its own leadership. In the same breath, he added that there is no question of admitting Panneerselvam into the AIADMK again. This was the first time Palaniswami had spoken against the BJP’s intervention in the AIADMK, raising questions of whether he is ready to go without the BJP in the next elections.
The next day, former minister Kadambur C Raju said the AIADMK had contested alone in the 2014 General elections and won 37 of the 39 seats. He asked if the national parties and the DMK were ready to go it alone in the 2024 Parliament elections. He also emphatically added that the AIADMK would sweep the next General elections, if it contested alone. His reference to ‘national parties’ was seen as a challenge to the saffron leadership.
However, just a few days after Raju’s poser, IT raids were conducted on businessman Pandithurai, one of the contractors who had taken up works of State highways when the AIADMK was in power. The Highways Department had been held by the former Chief Minister Palaniswami himself.
After the raids, while AIADMK leaders have stopped speaking about the next General elections, Palaniswami has been reiterating that he would never unite with Panneerselvam. During the recent Assembly session too, he demanded that Panneerselvam be removed as deputy leader in the Assembly, sparking a ruckus which resulted in the eviction of his supporters from the House.
Palaniswami is fighting to establish himself as the sole AIADMK leader with the ECI and in the Tamil Nadu Assembly. He has also filed a petition in the Supreme Court which will hear the case in November. But, the major battle for him that is likely to impact his legal struggle will be against the BJP leadership which apparently wants a united AIADMK to take on the DMK in the next Parliament elections.
Palaniswami is fighting to establish himself as the sole AIADMK leader with the ECI and in the Tamil Nadu Assembly. He has also filed a petition in the Supreme Court which will hear the case in November
It is surprising that most of the AIADMK leaders including former ministers are firmly backing Palaniswami despite the possibility of losing the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol, IT raids on businessmen close to them and the possibility of facing a hostile BJP leadership. His success very much hinges on whether he could hold on to his supporters or they shift their allegiance to the Panneerselvam camp which looks safe and secure.
For the BJP, it will be easy to deal with an AIADMK with dual leadership and several factions than a united party under a single leadership. At the moment, Palaniswami is firmly opposing the BJP’s wish of uniting with Panneerselvam but avoiding comments on electoral alliance with the saffron party in the next Parliament elections.
The General elections are a year away and he has the option of playing his cards close to his chest till that time without declaring his stand on electoral alliance with the BJP. One advantage Palaniswami has is that the general elections are more important for the BJP than the AIADMK, which can afford to lose it and chalk out a winning strategy for the next Assembly elections.
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