The AIADMK — the opposition party in Tamil Nadu and the balancing force in the state to the ruling DMK — has been gripped by an internal power struggle that spilled out into the open with calls for a single leadership for the party.
The first sign of fomenting trouble was a proclamation by spokesperson D Jayakumar at a press meeting after a meeting of key functionaries last week. He said, rather cryptically, that there have been some voices seeking “single leadership” for the party.
The cat was out of the bag.
“We want single leadership” is now a recurring chorus outside the headquarters. The slogans were first raised by Edappadi K Palaniswami’s loyalists and this was followed by the OPS camp’s sloganeering, demanding a “unified leadership”.
Since then, the chorus for EPS as the leader of the party grew louder and, to counter this, O Panneerselvam’s loyalists put out posters claiming that OPS is the leader chosen by late AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa.
The numbers are against OPS
For OPS, a rebellion is not new. He had famously rebelled against the party reins going to the family of VK Sasikala in February 2017. Eleven MLAs walked into his camp while Sasikala tried to keep the flock together even as she headed to prison to serve her term in a disproportionate assets case.
Now, OPS’s rebellion has even fewer takers. Only old-timers JCD Prabhakaran and Manoj Pandian are still standing by him. Significantly, former loyalists K Pandiarajan and V Maitreyan have gone and met Edappadi Palaniswami and expressed solidarity to his leadership.
With reduced lawmaker support and little backing on the ground, OPS took the legal route to stop a key meeting on Thursday, at which EPS is tipped to be elected the numero uno leader of the party. However, the Madras High Court on Wednesday refused to stall the meeting. But in some relief to OPS, the Chief Justice of the HC said that while the general council meeting can happen on Thursday, only the 23 draft resolutions can be passed. The other resolutions (single leadership) can be discussed but cannot be passed.
The crux of the problem
While it is clear OPS’s stars are on the wane, the question still remains: why has the single leadership issue risen now?
Why does EPS, who has consolidated so much power within the party, want to elbow out OPS, who is already content with a smaller role within the party?
Insiders advance two reasons: the BJP is emerging as a strong opposition and the AIADMK wants to protect its turf. Having two power centres for a party in opposition is a death knell in itself. For a multitude of issues, the AIADMK appeared to be lax in taking control of the narrative — even when the DMK government appeared on a weak wicket. Insiders say EPS wanted to change that and take control.
What ran EPS’s patience out was OPS’s demand during the recent Rajya Sabha elections that one of the two seats be given to his loyalists. “The ego war between the two leaders has been going on for some time. Both of them have had differences and there have been delays in taking decisions by the party,” a senior leader said on conditions of anonymity.
EPS wanted to give the Rajya Sabha seats to two of his loyalists— CV Shanmugham and D Jayakumar. OPS refused to budge and wanted to keep one for his loyalists. This is when supporters of EPS decided it was time to sideline OPS and call for a unified leader.
Why does OPS command so little support?
O Panneerselvam is facing an existential crisis. Many of his loyalists including senior leader V Maitreyan have jumped ship to the EPS camp. Ma Foi K Pandiarajan is one of them. “OPS has lost credibility. I was one of them who supported him during Dharmayudham in February 2017. But he was selfish and did not recognise the efforts of those who were loyal to him including me. His image is now dented and it is time to have EPS as the leader of the party,” he told News18.
VK Sasikala, who has time and again reiterated that she is the true heir of AIADMK, is keenly watching the developments. The Palaniswami camp wants to put an end to speculation of her reinduction into the party and says EPS’s elevation alone will put an end to this.
D-Day, June 23, has arrived. The AIADMK is set to pass 23 resolutions, and it seems clear that EPS would in some form emerge as the undisputed leader of the party. For OPS, such an event would be a significant setback. It is only a year since the party decided that it would retain the dual leadership (OPS and EPS) structure put in place after the death of Jayalalithaa.
If all goes well for EPS, he would get to place himself in the position of absolute power within the AIADMK by today. For OPS, the options to turn this crisis to his favour are literally draining away. Does he have a Brahmastra?