Tamil Nadu chief minister EPS leads one of the AIADMK camps that split after J Jayalalithaa's death.
Chennai: After months of one step forward and several back, the competing factions of Tamil Nadu's ruling AIADMK have agreed in principle to merge, with leaders talking of a union by August 15. The leaders of the two wings, former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam ("OPS") and his successor, E Palaniswami ("EPS"), are expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi today, which would signal their best efforts yet to bury their differences, some of which rest on who will head the Tamil Nadu government. Sources in the Panneerselvam camp, however, were skeptical of the two factions coming to an understanding.
Here are the 10 latest developments in this story:
Team OPS says it will not relent on two conditions it set months ago - that the government ask for the CBI to investigate the death of Ms Jayalalithaa, who died in December while she was Chief Minister; and that her live-in aide VK Sasikala, who replaced her as party chief and made her nephew TTV Dhinakaran the party's No 2, both be formally removed (they've already been sidelined). Asked about the possibility of a merger in view of the demands, a source sounded skeptical. "Will Sonia Gandhi and Narendra Modi merge?" he told NDTV.
Chief Minister Palaniswami or EPS met top leaders at the party headquarters in Chennai yesterday. They decided that Ms Sasikala's appointment was "temporary, till the election of a new chief". The group also concluded that the appointment of Ms Sasikala's nephew TTV Dhinakaran as her deputy was illegal.
Ms Sasikala was jailed in February while she was attempting to be Chief Minister herself; she was convicted by the Supreme Court of corruption in a case involving her and Ms Jayalalithaa during the latter's first term as Chief Minister in the 1990s.
Sources say the EPS camp said a high-level panel, not Sasikala, is leading the party. EPS and OPS are likely to meet and finalise the reunion on the weekend, sources say. EPS and OPS are both headed to Delhi for the swearing-in of Venkaiah Naidu as the new Vice President today. They are likely to meet the PM on their trip.
Talk of the central government brokering a reunion has swirled around the merger talks. Sources say a united AIADMK - stronger against its rival DMK - would help the BJP which is keen on expanding its base in the south. Both EPS and OPS have been in touch with central leaders.
A merger will also mean a quick and easy resolution to the fight between the two camps over rights to the party's name and symbol, especially before the local body elections due in a few months in Tamil Nadu.
The merger talks were fast-tracked when Mr Dhinakaran tried to assert his position by naming his loyalists as party office-bearers recently. These appointments were "only to cause confusion in the party ranks", the EPS faction said yesterday, underscoring the complete sidelining of the once-powerful Ms Sasikala and her nephew.
The rebel camp has also demanded the positions of party chief and Chief Minister for OPS, who was Jayalalithaa's choice of stand-in twice when she had to go to jail.
Sasikala, who has laid claim to Ms Jayalalithaa's political legacy, is serving a four-year jail term for corruption. Before going to jail in Bengaluru, she appointed Mr Dhinakaran as her deputy and nominated EPS as chief minister.