Former AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran has claimed that Tamil Nadu's Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam or OPS had met him last year "with an intention" to join hands with him. He also claimed that last week Mr Panneerselvam again sent word to meet him, this time reportedly to unseat Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, also known as EPS.
"In the meeting OPS expressed regret for his dharma yudham (war) against us. My party functionaries knew about the meeting. Even last week he sent out word for a meeting. He wanted to join hands against EPS and offered to make me the Chief Minister," Mr Dhinakaran alleged.
The Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) leader said he didn't intend to make the meeting public as he never took it seriously. "But we are speaking about it now only to expose Mr Panneerselvam who is playing a double game. He wants to join us, but at the same he attacks us on stage. It appears he wants to become the Chief Minister. That's why he's running here and there," Mr Dhinakaran said.
Thanga Tamilselvan, another expelled AIADMK leader and now with Dhinakaran's AMMK, first claimed on a TV show that Mr Panneerselvam had met arch rival TTV Dhinakaran in July last year.
"The meeting took place at a builder's home to unseat EPS. Even last week OPS had contacted the same builder to arrange a meeting with Dhinakaran" he had said.
While the deputy chief minister hasn't reacted yet, sources in the AIADMK have dismissed the allegation. A senior leader said, "The alleged meeting happened before the merger of OPS-EPS factions in August last year. Let them bring proof."
The allegation comes ahead of the Madras High Court verdict in the disqualification of 18 rebel AIADMK lawmakers. The lawmkaers had been disqualified by Speaker P Dhanapal last year for expressing no confidence against the Chief Minister.
They had challenged the disqualification in the Madras High Court and a two-judge bench of then Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M Sundar had given a split verdict following which the case was referred to a third judge whose orders are expected anytime.
AIADMK spokesperson RM Babu Murugavel said Dhinakaran was making such claims perhaps to keep his flock together in the event of the Madras High Court upholding the disqualification of 18 AIADMK lawmakers who had sided with him.
"Dhinakaran is trying to fish in troubled waters. He and his aides will say anything to stay relevant. He is perhaps doing this to keep his flock together in the context of the case regarding disqualification of 18 AIADMK MLAs," he told news agency Press Trust of India.
If the disqualification is cancelled, the state government could potentially face collapse if the lawmakers decide to pull the plug braving loss of their elected position.
The AIADMK has been caught in an intense power struggle since former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's death. Jayalalithaa's lifelong companion Ms Sasikala took over the reins of the party weeks after her death in December 2016, and tried to be Chief Minister but had to go to jail after being held guilty of corruption.
The party split into two factions led by Mr Palaniswami and veteran Jayalalithaa loyalist O Pannerseelvam.
OPS was in good terms with Sasikala's family, but turned against them after Jayalalithaa's death. He had launched a "dharma yudham" (war) against Sasikala's family.
However, in August 2017, he joined hands with Mr Palaniswami, a Sasikala loyalist on a condition that Sasikala would be expelled from the party and the circumstances leading to Jayalalithaa's death would be investigated.
While former Chief Minister Pannerseelvam became Mr Palaniswami's deputy, in the party he became the Chief Coordinator and the chief minister his deputy.
Mr Dhinakaran, after winning the RK Nagar by-election last year with a huge margin, claims he represents the real AIADMK.
If the meeting allegation turns out to be true, it could dent OPS' credibility and cause friction with Chief Minister EPS. Many say this could also strengthen Mr Dhinakaran's position particularly if the court quashes the disqualification of 18 lawmakers as potentially his supporters could bring down the state government.
The ruling AIADMK has 115 lawmakers, excluding the Speaker, in the 234-member assembly, one short of the majority mark. Among these a few are believed to be against the EPS government.
The opposition DMK has 88 lawmakers and Mr Dhinakaran is the lone Independent legislator.
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