CM Edappadi K Palaniswami, OPS move closer to merger to checkmate TTV Dhinakaran, Sasikala’s family

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CHENNAI: Chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and former chief minister O Panneerselvam are on the verge of merging the two AIADMK factions to take on T T V Dhinakaran, sources on both sides have confirmed.

Here is the formula being worked out: EPS will continue as CM; OPS will be deputy CM and party general secretary. Two of OPS’s lieutenants, Mafoi K Pandiarajan and Semmalai, may get cabinet berths. For this, EPS may drop two ministers from his present team.

A source said a formal announcement is expected after OPS calls on Prime Minister Narendra Modi later this week. OPS is flying along with his core team to Delhi on Thursday night to attend M Venkaiah Naidu’s swearing-in as the vice-president on Friday. K P Munusamy, Manoj Pandian and Natham Viswanathan will accompany OPS. V Maitreyan, who is in Delhi, will join them to meet Modi.

Since the appointment of V K Sasikala as general secretary is under dispute before the Election Commission of India, the EPS-OPS combine will have to wait for the commission’s order before formalising party posts.

Even if EC sets aside Sasikala’s appointment, there will be an interim arrangement – a committee with representation from the two factions – to manage party affairs till election is held for the general secretary post as per the party bylaw. In case EC rules against Sasikala, by default OPS would continue as party treasurer and E Madhusudhanan presidium chairman.

Sources said Palaniswami has been keener than OPS on the merger after Dhinakaran turned belligerent a week ago and appointed scores of people including 20 legislators as party office bearers.

The turf may be slippery for Palaniswami even after the merger, going by the sway Dhinakaran enjoys over 21 MLAs, including 19 of those who have accepted his offer of party posts.

As of now, it is anybody’s guess as to whether a merger can increase the government’s longevity. It, however, would give the OPS-EPS combine an opportunity to take complete control of the party, keep the Mannargudi clan at bay and take on the DMK with a renewed vigour. It would also be in line with PM Narendra Modi’s game plan of stitching an alliance with the AIADMK minus the Mannargudi family, said a source in the OPS camp.

Palaniswami, meanwhile, has convened a meeting of senior party functionaries – mostly ministers and MLAs – on Thursday to chalk out strategies to counter TTV. The OPS camp is also pitching for a re-entry of the unified AIADMK into the NDA at the Centre, after a gap of 18 years. With 50 MPs in Parliament, the party’s support will be crucial for the BJP government. In the bargain, the party looks for securing a handful of Union cabinet berths to take on the resurgent DMK.

Source