AIADMK Talks Merger, But Much Depends On Who Will Be Chief Minister

AIADMK Talks Merger, But Much Depends On Who Will Be Chief Minister

VK Sasikala's proxy, Chief Minister E Palaniswami may emerge stronger after merger of two AIADMK camps

Chennai:  As the AIADMK's two factions talk about a merger, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edapadi Palaniswamy's supporters are hoping to negotiate a deal with the O Panneerselvam camp that will include Mr Palaniswamy keeping the top post. They have come up against supporters of Mr Panneerselvam, who want him to be both party chief and return as Chief Minister in a re-united AIADMK.

The Panneerselvam faction is driving a hard bargain - they also want the post of AIADMK presidium chairperson to be returned to veteran leader E Madhusudanan, who was fired by Ms Sasikala earlier this year.  

The re-merger initiative, which gained high speed on Monday night, seemed to falter on Tuesday afternoon when O Paneerselvam said that the ouster of party chief VK Sasikala and her nephew and deputy TTV Dinakaram was a non-negotiable condition. The Palaniswami or EPS camp said pre-conditions were not acceptable for talks of reconciliation.

Mr Palaniswami, 63, has so far been seen as a proxy of Ms Sasikala, who is in jail for corruption. Sources say many of his ministers too are pushing for the removal of Ms Sasikala and Mr Dinakaran, worried that charges of corruption piling up against the latter are hurting the party.

Ministers and legislators from the Kongu region to which Mr Palaniswami or EPS belongs, appear to be playing a key role in the re-merger move and are therefore trying to build negotiations around retaining him as Chief Minister. EPS belongs to the Gounder community and his negotiators have suggested that with him as chief minister and O Panneerselvam as party chief the aspirations of different communities will be balanced. Mr Panneerselvam or OPS is from the Thevar community, to which VK Sasikala and her nephew and deputy TTV Dinankaran too belong. The AIADMK counts on the staunch support of the AIADMK.

There were murmurs of discontent in the party over the dominance of the Thevars after O Panneerselvam or OPS was sworn in chief minister and Ms Sasikala took over as party chief when the AIADMK's supreme leader J Jayalalithaa died in December. When OPS rebelled against Ms Sasikala earlier this year, she made it a point to pick a Gounder leader as Chief Minister, finding one in her loyalist E Palaniswami.

A lot will hinge on how the Sasikala camp's 122 lawmakers are aligned. Till Monday, 20 to 25 lawmakers were still said to support Ms Sasikala and Mr Dinakaran. If they continue to support them, it will be difficult for the EPS and OPS camps to together form government. The majority mark in the 235-member AIADMK assembly is 117. The AIADMK has a total 134 legislators.    

Emerging from Monday night's meeting of ministers and lawmakers, Finance Minister D Jayakumar said, "We welcome OPS' call. Our aim is to safeguard the Two-Leaf party symbol and Amma's government," a reference Ms Jayalalithaa, whose legacy both factions claim.

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