The battle for control of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu saw a new twist on Thursday morning after office bearers led by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswamy declared that TTV Dinakaran, the nephew of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s aide VK Sasikala, was not the deputy general secretary of the Palaniswamy faction of the party.
The move is seen as a step forward towards Palaniswamy burying the hatchet with the faction led by former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, who rebelled against Sasikala in February claiming that he was forced to resign from the post of chief minister. The party has been in disarray since Jayalalithaa died, with various factions – led respectively by Sasikala and Dinkaran, Paneerselvam and, later, Palaniswamy – jostling for control. While Palaniswamy heads the AIADMK-Amma, Panneerselvam heads the AIADMK-Puratchi Thalaivi Amma.
Speaking to reporters later on Thursday, Dinakaran rejected Palaniswamy’s resolution that he is not the party’s deputy general secretary.
The decision to sideline Dinakaran completely came after a night of hectic discussions in the Palaniswamy camp. Officials in the faction said the immediate reason for Thursday’s statement was Dinakaran’s functioning over the last two weeks. He had appointed new office bearers last week, claiming to be the deputy general secretary acting on the orders of Sasikala, who he says is the general secretary of the AIADMK.
The developments also happened at a time when AIADMK circles are rife with speculation that the Bharatiya Janata Party was putting pressure on the different groups to merge and join the National Democratic Alliance that is ruling the Centre.
A Tamil Nadu BJP official told Scroll.in that the two factions had been told that the AIADMK could join the Centre only if it came together as one. The BJP is also not happy with the way Panneerselvam has lost steam over the last two months and feels that he has squandered a golden opportunity to emerge as the undisputed leader of the party.
Officials in Palaniswamy’s camp admitted that Dinakaran’s functioning over the last few weeks showed new confidence. This stemmed from the fact that he had the full support of at least eight MLAs, who could pull the plug on the government at any point. In fact, Dinakaran had claimed in the past that 30 MLAs are on his side, though this was clearly an exaggerated figure.
“He believes no action would be taken against him because of this threat,” a senior AIADMK (Amma) leader said.
In February, Palaniswamy won a confidence vote in the Assembly with the support of 122 MLAs. The party currently needs 117 legislators to stay in power. The total strength of the House is now 233, with the Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar seat remaining vacant since the death of Jayalalithaa on December 5.
If Dinakaran’s claim of having the support of at least eight MLAs is true, he has the potential to bring the government down. For Palaniswamy, it was important to get Panneerselvam on board again to bridge the numbers gap. The Panneerselvam faction currently has the backing of 10 MLAs, down from 12 in February after two legislators moved back to the Palaniswamy camp.
In the Dinakaran camp, the suspicion now is that the BJP has increased pressure on the two factions to merge quickly.
“They think if EPS [Palaniswamy] and OPS [Panneerselvam] join hands, every one here [Dinakaran camp] will go back to them. But I can tell you that will not happen,” a Dinakaran loyalist said.
The reasoning behind the notion that Dinakaran would return to the party after a merger was that the moment Panneerselvam and Palaniswamy come together, the dispute before the Election Commission on who should get the AIADMK’s “Two leaves” symbol will conclude. Once the symbol, which was suspended after the party split, comes back to the party, Dinakaran will have no basis to continue his resistance.
However, the response to Thursday’s statement from the chief minister has been lukewarm in the Panneerselvam camp. Former minister KP Munusamy said two central demands of the faction are yet to be met. “We want Sasikala removed from the party and a probe ordered into the death of our leader Jayalalithaa,” he reiterated.
Meanwhile, both Panneerselvam and Palaniswamy are expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on August 11, when they arrive to take part in the swearing-in of Venkaiah Naidu as vice-president.
BJP officials in Tamil Nadu said a senior party leader, who had come in from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 2015, had been in touch with both camps. The party also wants the AIADMK government to continue, since an election in Tamil Nadu now will be to the advantage of the Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. “We do not want the DMK to take advantage of this situation,” a leader said, requesting anonymity.