Expelled AIADMK leader and former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam (OPS) announced today that his faction would field a candidate for the Erode East assembly constituency bypoll scheduled for 27 February.
OPS' announcement comes a day after the AIADMK under the leadership of Edappadi Palanisamy announced the party would contest the seat. In 2021, the seat was given to GK Vasan's Tamil Maanila Congress that lost to Congress candidate from the DMK alliance.
"I have full rights over AIADMK's two-leaves symbol as I am the party's coordinator as per election commission records. I will sign as AIADMK Coordinator," OPS said justifying his faction's decision to contest on the AIADMK's two-leaves symbol.
As per the AIADMK's general council meeting on July 11, E Palaniswami has been elected as the interim general secretary of the party.
OPS, however, said he would not field any candidate if AIADMK's ally, the BJP, decides to contest from the seat. "It's a national party and we would pave way for them as this is important for them ahead of Lok Sabha polls".
The AIADMK's General Council which had evolved a dual leadership model under OPS and EPS after the death of Jayalalithaa expelled OPS last year and elevated EPS as the party's Interim General Secretary. This came months after both leaders were unanimously elected by party workers. EPS who commands support of a majority of the general council claimed dual leadership had made decision-making difficult. The amendment also made contesting for the party's top job difficult in a bid to what many say scuttle any leader challenging EPS. The party had suffered three consecutive poll defeats under dual leadership after Jayalalithaa's death.
OPS had called the general council convened by EPS without his knowledge illegal. Though an order by a single judge of the Madras High Court quashed his expulsion, the division bench upheld the council's decision. The Supreme Court is now hearing the appeal.
Slamming OPS, D Jayakumar, former AIADMK Minister said "OPS has been isolated. Even the few members who support him will shift to our side". Amid speculation that AIADMK ally BJP contemplates to fight the bypoll alone, senior leader and former Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan said "The state executive has authorised Tamil Nadu BJP President Annamalai to decide on this".
The two leaves symbol could still be tricky as both leaders ought to sign till the poll panel recognises the amendment, in which case both camps would have to contest as independents.
The by-election was called for after Congress MLA Everaa E Thirumahan died recently. With Lok Sabha elections due next year all major parties including the ruling DMK are keen to win this as the result would be seen as a possible prelude to the outcome of general elections.