- Tamil Nadu's ruling party seeking reunion of rival teams
- Major point of dispute: who will be Chief Minister?
- Faction led by OPS likely to harden its stand today
Despite both teams indicating they want to settle- a desire expressed recently including in the Supreme Court, where they have each sought recognition as the authentic AIADMK - today could see a new rumpling.
What the leaders of both squads want is to be Chief Minister. The larger section of about 120 state legislators is headed by E Palaniswamy - "EPS" -who is the current head of government. The scrappier wing is fronted by O Panneerselvam, whose revolt began when he was asked to quit as Chief Minister; EPS replaced him.
Team OPS is likely today to issue some sort of ultimatum unless it has its way on two fronts: it wants EPS as Chief Minister to ask for Ms Jayalalithaa's death to be studied by the country's premier investigating agency, the CBI; it also wants the two people it holds responsible for marginalizing OPS to be expelled from the AIADMK.
The pair in question - party chief VK Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dinakaran- currently the party's top two bosses, will be reduced to bit players, the Chief Minister has said on record, a move which serendipitously gives him complete control of the larger faction. As proof of intent, Ms Sasikala's posters have been removed from the party office in Chennai. But they have not been officially removed from the party . Nor have they resigned. Mr Dinakaran, engulfed by corruption charges, has already said he is willing to lose top billing in the larger interest of the party.
"If these two demands are fulfilled, we can sit and formally talk. We have no other demands," said a member of the OPS squad. "We are still positive," said another member of a committee formed by both sides to navigate a merger.
Ms Sasikala, the once powerful aide who lived with Ms Jayalalithaa and took over the party after her death, has been in jail since February after being convicted of corruption; Mr Dinakaran was arrested this week for attempting to buy the AIADMK's symbol of two leaves, which the Election Commission has declared out-of-use till it decides on which faction of the party is the real deal. That has been damaging PR for the EPS side, which backed Ms Sasikala and her family till recently. But of especial concern are reports of emerging evidence that nearly 90 crores paid as bribes to voters for an election that Mr Dinakaran was to contest (from Ms Jayalalithaa's constituency) can be linked to senior party officials including Chief Minister EPS.
Sources say that emboldened by these reports, Team OPS will today ask its rival to commit urgently to its requests including the investigation into Ms Jayalalithaa's death - it has alleged that Ms Sasikala prevented the Chief Minister from meeting loyalists like OPS while she was hospitalized and that her death may not have been natural.
OPS filled in twice for Ms Jayalalithaa when corruption charges forced her to quit office; after her death, he was Chief Minister till EPS replaced him at Ms Sasikala's instance. Public opinion has raged against him being evicted, partly because of his experience as an administrator.
A senior leader who is part of the OPS camp told NDTV " The tussle is all about who would be the Chief Minister and the party chief. The OPS camp wants both for Panneerselvam, citing he was Jayalalithaa's choice twice to be the Chief Minister. However the EPS camp doesn't want to part with the Chief Minister's chair. With no popular leader comparable to Jayalalithaa or her predecessor MGR, the EPS camp sources say wants to do away with the position of General Secretary. Instead it wants a committee to lead the party."
A minister in the EPS cabinet said "Let them come for formal talks without speaking through the media. We are ready."