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Former Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) has firmly rejected BJP’s plans to bring together all the warring AIADMK factions as one, diminishing the saffron party’s already slim chances of winning a few seats in Tamil Nadu during the 2024 general election.

A contest among the warring factions is inevitable if the BJP fails to force Palaniswami to bring about unity between the rivals in the remaining one year before the elections. One year is a long time in politics and it remains to be seen whether the BJP would manage to bring him to the negotiating table with his opponents in the AIADMK.

There are clear indications that former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam will join hands with the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam led by TTV Dhinakaran and VK Sasikala, who was a close aide of late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. But Palaniswami has rejected the possibility of uniting with the three rival leaders. It seems like two factions of the AIADMK would continue to fight each other for the party’s leadership.

On the surface, it seems that the BJP wants a strong and united AIADMK to fight the ruling DMK. This could be partially true. But it also seems like the saffron party wants to gain control over the AIADMK by forcing Palaniswami to admit Panneerselvam, who has deferred to the BJP in several instances. Panneerselvam has openly stated that he accepted the Deputy Chief Minister post following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s advice. Besides, auditor Gurumurthy, who is close to the BJP, has also claimed that it was on his advice that Panneerselvam sat in meditation at former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s memorial some years ago.

One year is a long time in politics and it remains to be seen whether the BJP would manage to bring him to the negotiating table with his opponents in the AIADMK

Revealing his strategy for the 2024 Parliament elections, Palaniswami has asserted that his party would lead the alliance, making it clear that he would decide the parties to be accommodated in the front. His comments that the AIADMK would lead a mega alliance for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections was followed by senior leader and former minister KA Sengottaiyan’s assertion that the AIADMK was strong enough to go it alone in the 2024 polls and win all the seats. This was meant as a warning to the BJP that it would be left out of the alliance if it insisted on the inclusion of rival leaders in the front.

More and more AIADMK leaders have come out in the open, backing Palaniswami’s stand on the electoral alliance, the latest being former minister Sellur K Raju. “The AIADMK train will leave the platform soon and head towards New Delhi (Parliament). Those who wish to board the train could do so. This is the land of Periyar and Anna. Only Dravidian parties can rule here”, Raju said in a clear message for the BJP.

Also Read: Will EPS buckle to BJP pressure to patch up with OPS?

Palaniswami, however, has not closed his doors to the BJP. He will permit the same arrangement as the 2019 Parliamentary election when the saffron party was allotted five seats. During the previous Lok Sabha election, Palaniswami had been in power in Tamil Nadu, but he is in the Opposition now. The BJP, which is the ruling party at the Centre, could demand more seats this time.

If the BJP teamed up with Panneerselvam, Dhinakaran and Sasikala, it could lead the alliance and contest in a higher number of seats. However, winning more seats would be the priority for any party, rather than contesting more seats.

The results will depend not only on the alliance formations but on AIADMK founder MGR’s magical symbol of ‘Two Leaves’.  Palaniswami who has the support of 61 MLAs and a large number of district secretaries could have a clear electoral advantage if the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol is frozen but there is the possibility of an even fight if Panneerselvam gets the symbol.

The Election Commission of India, which came to a quick conclusion on the Shiv Sena split in Maharashtra and froze the symbol ‘Bow and Arrow’, has not yet acted on Palaniswami’s petition in which he claims to have the support of 2,550 of the 2,661 general council members.

O Panneerselvam may join hands with the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam led by TTV Dhinakaran and VK Sasikala. But Palaniswami has rejected the possibility of uniting with the three rival leaders

During the earlier split between the two groups after Panneerselvam quit the party along with 10 MLAs, the Election Commission froze the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol on the eve of the RK Nagar byelection even though the then Chief Minister Palaniswami had the support of 123 legislature members and majority of the general council members.

Even after the merger, the Election Commission pronounced that the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol would be granted to the faction headed by presidium chairman E Madhusudhanan and treasurer Panneerselvam.

Also Read: With BJP welcoming EPS rise, OPS’ only trump card is two leaves

Palaniswami has the near total support of general council members and MLAs but a case against his election as the interim general secretary is pending in the Supreme Court. The Election Commission of India is yet to give its order on allocation of the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol.

With the pendency of the cases in the Supreme Court and Election Commission, the allocation of the party symbol in any election would require the signature of both Palaniswami and Panneerselvam. If the cases drag on till the Parliament elections, the ‘Two Leaves’ cannot be used by any of the AIADMK groups.

In this situation, Dhinakaran pointed out, the symbol cannot be used by anyone in case of any bye-election. He said Palaniswami would not get the votes without the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol, hinting that that was precisely the game plan of Palaniswami’s opponents.

Despite the AIADMK forging a strong alliance, the 2019 Parliament elections was a cakewalk for the DMK-led alliance. After coming to power in 2021, the ruling DMK could be facing anti-incumbency due to factors such as the increased power tariff, but a divided opposition cannot hold a candle to MK Stalin’s DMK as he is certain to stitch a powerful alliance for the coming Parliamentary election as well. If Palaniswami continues to stick to his guns, the BJP’s plans for gaining a foothold in Tamil Nadu could hit a roadblock.

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