On AIADMK merger talks, O Panneerselvam says talks are on track (file)
Chennai: A day after an expected merger between rival factions of Tamil Nadu's ruling AIADMK party ran into last-minute turbulence, former chief minister O Panneerselvam, popularly known as OPS, kept hopes alive. "Talks are going on smoothly and in another two days, you can expect good news," he said, referring to the other camp led by his successor E Palaniswami or EPS. Last night, despite elaborate flower arrangements and expectant party members waiting at the shoreside memorial of J Jayalalithaa in Chennai, the merger of the two sides that split after her death fell through reportedly because some members of the OPS camp wanted EPS to step down.
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"There are no differences in the AIADMK and the talks for the merger as desired by the people of Tamil Nadu and cadre of AIADMK are proceeding smoothly. As early as possible and in a day or two, a good decision will be reached," the former chief minister said this morning.
The merger was expected on Friday evening after Chief Minister EPS agreed on Thursday to OPS' unwavering demand for an investigation into how Ms Jayalalithaa died after nearly two months in hospital. But OPS camp wants a serving judge and not a team headed by a retired judge to examine the events that led to Ms Jayalalithaa's demise while she was still Chief Minister.
The other critical demand of the OPS camp is that VK Sasikala, who is in prison in a corruption case, is publicly sacked as the party's chief. She is currently the party's most senior official with the title of General Secretary, the status held by Ms Jayalalithaa for nearly 20 years.
Ms Sasikala was Ms Jayalalaithaa's closest companion for years and appropriated control of the party. When she made an attempt to also be Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, O Panneerselvam rebelled.
Mr Panneerselvam was made to resign as chief minister by Ms Sasikala before her plans to take over collapsed when she was convicted by the Supreme Court for corruption and sentenced to four years in jail. Before going to jail, she named E Palaniswami as the new Chief Minister and her nephew, TTV Dhinakaran, the AIADMK's number No 2.
Sources said team OPS is no more insisting on Mr Panneerselvam getting back the Chief Minister's post. Mr Palaniswami, they said, has offered OPS the post of party chief, which is acceptable to them.
Mr Palaniswami and Mr Panneerselvam's separate meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi recently were seen to give the possibility of a merger a boost after several false starts. The BJP is believed to be invested in a reunited AIADMK, which has in the past supported it on key policies and legislation and is seen as friendly to the Centre.
A merger will resolve a fight between the two camps over rights to the party's name and symbol especially before crucial local body elections due in a few months in Tamil Nadu.
A reunion between EPS and OPS would make them much stronger in fighting Mr Dhinkaran, who held a rally this week with nearly 20 AIADMK legislators by his side to signal his strength ahead of crucial local body elections in Tamil Nadu.