CHENNAI: Six months after he rose in revolt against interim general secretary VK Sasikala and family, O Panneerselvam — the three-time Chief Minister who transformed into an unlikely rebel — returned to the party on Monday, having partially won the battle.
Panneerselvam and his colleague K Pandiarajan had to take a demotion of sorts as they returned to the State Cabinet to occupy less important posts. But the split in February has had a cascading effect, with Sasikala and her family eventually being sidelined from the government and party affairs. Panneerselvam has managed to obtain an assurance from the establishment faction, headed by Chief Minister ‘Edappadi’ K Palaniswami, to initiate action against Sasikala by convening the general council.
However, despite the merger, Sasikala’s ouster would remain a delicate task, considering how well-entrenched the family has been in the party apparatus for decades. The move is fraught with risk as was evident when 18 MLAs owing allegiance to the family — enough to make the government a minority — said they would meet the Governor at 10 am on Tuesday.
The rebels have also failed to capture the party as once aimed, but with Panneerselvam as the head of the 11-member coordination committee that is to guide the party in the near future till a new general secretary is elected, not everything is lost.
Palaniswami is the joint convener of the committee, while his loyalist R Vaithilingam and rebel leader KP Munusami are deputy convenors. Panneerselvam is also back as the treasurer, an important position in the party hierarchy. This effectively puts in place checks and balances so that neither of the factions has an upper-hand in the coming days, after Sasikala and deputy TTV Dhinakaran are removed.
Rumours suggested the demand to expel Sasikala was holding up the merger which was unlikely to move forward on Monday. Finally, Panneerselvam and his loyalists went to the party headquarters in the afternoon, ending his dharma yudhdham.
The general council of the party would be convened to initiate the process of ousting Sasikala, announced Vaithilingam, soon after a beaming Palaniswami and relieved Panneerselvam shook hands at the headquarters.While the two factions were engrossed in last-minute hectic parleys, as many as 18 MLAs gathered at Dhinakaran’s Adyar residence. Before long, word spread that they would not hesitate to pull the government down if Sasikala were to be expelled.
Later in the night, hours after Pannerselvam took oath as deputy Chief Minister, these MLAs went to the memorial of late leader J Jayalalithaa, raising slogans for ‘Chinnamma’ Sasikala.
The existential crisis seems to have brought the ‘Mannargudi family’ together, as the otherwise media-wary VK Dhivakaran, Sasikala’s brother, appeared before the media to back his nephew Dhinakaran. “It is not the end of a problem; it is the beginning,” he said, warning against any misadventures with the threat that at least eight more MLAs were in touch with him.
Semmalai loses out on ministry berth
Senior leader of the erstwhile rebel faction and MLA S Semmalai was disappointed as his name was missing from the list of ministers to be inducted into the Cabinet. It came as a surprise as he was widely touted to be a minister when the reshuffling was announced on Monday. “I am totally disappoin-ted,” said the leader, who was a minister from 2001-06, handling the portfolios of Health and Education
The road ahead
Dealing with Sasikala and family
The success of the merger is closely linked to the fate of the Mannargudi family led by V K Sasikala. The rebels have made her expulsion and side-lining of her family non-negotiable, but that is a tricky divorce from a family that has its share of staunch loyalists. The 18 MLAs among the loyalists are set to meet the Governor on Tuesday, which is a warning to the government. The next challenge would come in managing the floor if and when the general council is convened to formally expel Sasikala. The more pragmatic option would be to put Sasikala on the backburner so as not to precipitate the situation
Get back the prized ‘Two Leaves’
Beyond the rhetoric of returning to Amma’s governance, the merger has a much more tangible, fundamental aim — retrieving the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol, that is the greatest legacy that Jayalalithaa left behind for their political future. The squabble between the factions had led to freezing of the symbol, a definite handicap for the party that is about to receive the first feedback from the public in the form of the imminent local body polls. They will soon have to initiate the process of defreezing the symbol by withdrawing the complaints before the EC, and ensure that the party machinery works as a single unit to face the polls
A new system of party governance
The merger has ended a long period of tumult, but the AIADMK has just entered waters inherently foreign to it. Since its formation by matinee idol M G Ramachandran, the party has remained monolithic in structure, with the general secretary wielding a czar-like authority. During MGR’s reign and that of his successor in party and government, J Jayalalithaa, the organisation had a linear, regimented structure, with power flowing from above. AIADMK took pride in its ‘military discipline’ while rivals ridiculed it as an elected autocracy