E Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam shake hands at a joint news conference
Chennai: After months of hard negotiations and several false starts, Tamil Nadu's ruling AIADMK party today finally announced a merger with Chief Minister E Palaniswami or EPS, and his rival O Panneerselvam or OPS shaking on it and also visiting together the beachside memorial of J Jayalalithaa, where OPS started his rebellion. The AIADMK has agreed to expel VK Sasikala, the jailed party chief. "The burden in my heart is gone. No one can separate us, we are children of Amma (Jayalalithaa), and we are brothers," Mr Panneerselvam said.
Here are the latest developments in this story:
- The AIADMK had split months after the death of Jayalalithaa, the film star-turned-powerful leader who headed both the party and the state government until her death in December.
- OPS, who stood in as Chief Minister thrice for Jayalalithaa during her lifetime, has settled for the role of deputy to EPS, the man who once worked under him and who was chosen by Ms Sasikala to replace him as Chief Minister.
- OPS will also be party coordinator, helped by a "coordination committee". Three of the 10 lawmakers in his camp will be ministers.
- Ms Sasikala's removal was a key condition of the OPS camp but merger talks appeared to stop just short of an announcement because of a reluctant EPS - seen in a recent leaked video falling at Ms Sasikala's feet.
- Ms Sasikala, a long-time friend of Jayalalithaa, took control of the party after her death and soon angled for the Chief Minister's post, forcing the resignation of OPS, who then rebelled. Ms Sasikala's plans crashed when she was sentenced to a four-year jail term for corruption. Before going to jail, she named EPS as the new Chief Minister and her nephew, TTV Dhinakaran, the AIADMK's number No 2.
- Mr Dhinakaran, who has been sidelined to facilitate the merger, has been trying to rally his supporters for a fightback and even met his aunt in jail last week. Around 20 lawmakers met him today but it is not known whether they will be a threat. The united AIADMK now has 134 lawmakers; the half-way mark in the state assembly is 117.
- On Friday evening, party members waited for hours at the beachside memorial at Chennai of Jayalalithaa but the merger fell through despite the Chief Minister agreeing to a demand for an investigation into how she died.
- The merged team has decided to ask the Election Commission for its "two leaves symbol", taken away because of the competing claims by the two factions.
- Mr Palaniswami and Mr Panneerselvam's separate meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi recently were seen to be the propellant for a merger.
- The BJP is believed to be heavily invested in a reunited AIADMK as it tries to gain political space in Tamil Nadu, which has always oscillated between the regional rivals AIADMK and DMK. To stop the DMK, the BJP may go for an alliance with the AIADMK for the upcoming local body polls.
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