Tamil politics

As AIADMK ousts Sasikala from top post, Palaniswami hopes dissidents will now return to his side

A general council meeting on Tuesday seemed to suggest a big change in momentum against the Sasikala/Dinakaran faction.

The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s general council met on Tuesday and resolved to remove Sasikala from the post of interim general secretary. It also ratified an earlier decision to remove her nephew TTV Dinakaran as deputy general secretary.

At the meeting, party leader B Valarmathi launched a scathing attack on Sasikala – currently serving a four-year jail sentence in Bengaluru for amassing property disproportionate to her known source of income – calling her and her family members an evil that had possessed the party. In great contrast, and only in January, a teary-eyed Valarmathi had pleaded with Sasikala to take over the party leadership. Sasikala was the only ray of hope for the party to sustain its position in Tamil Nadu politics, she had then claimed.

The resolutions sought to bring to an end a battle for supremacy in Tamil Nadu’s ruling party that had split it three ways in the months after party chief J Jayalalithaa’s death in December. While Sasikala/Dinakaran lead one faction, the other two were headed by Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami before they merged in August.

The council also declared on Tuesday that the late Jayalalithaa would be the “eternal general secretary” of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and that the party would not have another general secretary.

This, along with the ouster of Sasikala and Dinakaran, means that the powers of the party would now be vested with Panneerselvam, the coordinator of the steering committee, and Palaniswami, co-coordinator of the team. The party will also go back to the Election Commission of India to try and retrieve its original “two leaves” symbol, which had been suspended in April on account of the split.

A furious Dinakaran told reporters in Madurai that the council meeting was illegal as it was the general secretary alone who had the power to call such a gathering. Claiming that Palaniswami had lost majority support in the Assembly, he said it was time to send the government packing.

“We will wait for three weeks to see what the governor does,” he asserted. “We will do anything to save the party.”

The Dinakaran faction plans to move the Election Commission later this week against the decisions taken on Tuesday.

However, some members of the camp admitted they were running out of time and it would be very difficult to sustain the support of the 21 legislators who have backed Dinakaran in light of what transpired on Tuesday.

The Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam too seemed to have realised the importance of time as it moved the Madras High Court swiftly with a plea for an immediate floor test in the Assembly.

Dinakaran losing ground

What gave way to despondency in the Dinakaran camp was the turnout at the meeting, pointing to a clear change in momentum in favour of the rival camp. Officials in the Palaniswami faction said 90% of about 2,400 general council members attended the meeting, scuttling any chance of the Dinakaran side questioning the weight of the resolutions.

“We expected a 75% turnout,” a senior minister said. “But even those who were considered Dinakaran loyalists turned up.”

The Dinakaran side, however, disputed this claim.

The change in the way the wind is now blowing may have to do with the attraction of power that a united Palaniswami camp offers. Many in the Dinakaran faction are uncomfortable with the prospect of pulling down a government that has close to four years of its tenure left. With just 21 MLAs backing him, Dinakaran has no chance of wresting power. On the other hand, with 114 legislators, Palaniswami needs only three more to sail through a floor test.

“Finally, some sense has prevailed,” the senior minister said. “People in the opposing camp are realising that the DMK will cash in if the government falls.”

Most members of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam are also in agreement that public opinion is overwhelming against the party and an election now would result in a washout. It is, therefore, now a choice between four years of power and the prospect of political irrelevance.

What has helped Palaniswami is the indecision of Governor C Vidyasagar Rao, who has not acted on demands for a floor test for over three weeks. This gave Palaniswami crucial time to negotiate with detractors, the success of which was visible in some part at Tuesday’s meeting.

Soon after the meeting on Tuesday, a police team was sent to the hill town of Kodagu, where the majority of legislators backing Dinakaran are holed up in a resort. However, police officials claimed they were there in connection with a case against former Higher Education Minister P Palaniappan and did not visit the resort – though their timing led to some suspicion among Dinakaran loyalists.

After Tuesday's resolutions, the power in the AIADMK now lies with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (second from right) and his deputy O Panneerselvam (third from right). (Credit: IANS)
After Tuesday's resolutions, the power in the AIADMK now lies with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (second from right) and his deputy O Panneerselvam (third from right). (Credit: IANS)

DMK’s final push

Tuesday’s developments seemed to bring out a sense of urgency in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam too. After his meeting with the governor on Sunday, the Opposition party’s working president MK Stalin had said he would wait a week before going to court to seek a floor test. However, realising that a week might be too long, the party moved the Madras High Court on Tuesday seeking a direction to the governor to order a floor test.

The move has, however, ended up giving the ruling party some breathing space. A senior leader pointed out that the High Court has posted the matter to October 10. “Since the court is involved now, we don’t expect the governor to act any soon,” the leader said. Essentially, the Palaniswami camp believes they now have till October 10 to woo back the dissident MLAs.

But the Dinakaran camp will be keeping an eye out for any poaching attempts. At a closed-door meeting in Madurai, party officials said Dinakaran has decided to up the ante if even a single legislator on his side switches camps in the coming days. “If they try to poach our people, we will meet the governor and categorically withdraw support,” said a leader privy to the meeting.

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