AIADMK split? Crisis in party after OPS, EPS rift becomes public

Five years ago, when a relatively unknown Edappadi K Palaniswami was chosen as CM candidate by ex-AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala, Panneerselvam faced a similar situation and was left with just a handful of supporters
AIADMK split? Crisis in party after OPS, EPS rift becomes public

CHENNAI: The rift in the AIADMK is out in the open, finally. After years of patching up differences, AIADMK coordinator O Panneerselvam and his deputy in the party and Leader of Opposition Edappadi Palaniswami have split.

And like all other relationships, this divorce could only get uglier in the coming days before it is put to rest permanently.

With the AIADMK General Council meeting on June 23 merely paving the way for another General Council meeting on July 11 with the sole purpose of electing a single leadership in the party, the voice of the 1.5 crore-odd cadres is clear: The AIADMK, which is celebrating its golden jubilee year, is yet again looking for a strong leader like MGR or Jayalalithaa to take the party forward. With a majority of the cadre and party functionaries rooting for Palaniswami to don that role as of now, the rival OPS camp has started playing dirty as has been evident in the recent developments.

On Sunday, the EPS camp of the AIADMK had called for an urgent office bearers’ meeting to discuss the GC meeting on July 11.

Even as the details of the meeting announcement reached the media, OPS' camp sent another communique clarifying that the meeting call hadn’t originated from the office of the party coordinator OPS and urged the office bearers not to attend the same.

Panneerselvam, who was on his way to a road trip across the State to galvanize his supporters, cut short his trip and returned to the city.

However, the AIADMK office bearers’ meeting went on as scheduled. Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon after the meeting in which over 60 senior party leaders are reported to have participated, AIADMK spokesperson and former minister D Jayakumar called OPS ‘a symbol of betrayal’.

He told reporters that the sequence of events that have taken place since Jayalalithaa’s death proves that OPS has been betraying the party. Citing the recent comments of Panneerselvam’s son P Ravindhranath MP in favour of the DMK and his meeting with Chief Minister MK Stalin as pointed out by former minister RB Udayakumar recently, Jayakumar said that it was not what the cadre wanted and showed that OPS and his family had betrayed the party. He also clarified that the unanimous decision of the party was to opt for a single leadership and that leader ought to be Edappadi Palaniswami.

Later in the day, the legal team of O Panneerselvam told reporters that claims that the term of O Panneerselvam as AIADMK coordinator had ended with the most recent GC were false and that he remained the party coordinator for the next five years. The lawyers also claimed that they would also highlight the irregularities in the party such as calling for a general meeting without the consent of the coordinator to the Election Commission of India.

Ahead of the June 23 GC, O Panneerselvam also resorted to various attempts at cancelling the meeting in vain. The late-night court drama in a desperate attempt to stop the GC and the participation of OPS at the meeting the next morning only dents the image of the former Chief Minister and a staunch loyalist of Jayalalithaa further.

Five years ago, when a relatively unknown Edappadi K Palaniswami was chosen as CM candidate by ex-AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala, Panneerselvam faced a similar situation and was left with just a handful of supporters.

However, after Sasikala’s imprisonment, Panneerselvam joined hands with EPS and together they steered the party and government successfully for four years braving a pandemic along the way. Back then, both the leaders did not command the support among the cadre statewide and their loyalists remained in the respective regions i.e. in the southern districts where Mukkulathor community votes were significant for OPS and the Kongu region for EPS.

The LoP has to be credited for gaining acceptance as a state-level leader cutting across caste and regional politics over the recent past as has been evident in the recent past where D Jayakumar from the fisher community to RB Udayakumar, also from Mukkulathor community rooting for EPS as the one who can take on Stalin’s DMK in the coming years. The sweeping victory of AIADMK candidates in the Kongu belt of western TN in the 2021 assembly elections also showed that he had his base intact, which cannot be credited to the party coordinator OPS who lost significant ground in his home belt in the same elections.

Over the past five decades of existence, the AIADMK has gone through similar crisis in the past and OPS could do well to learn a lesson or two from history. In October 1972, AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran who was the DMK treasurer back then and a rising star in the party when M Karunanidhi was the CM and DMK President, urged party leaders to reveal their assets in public besides questioning some state policies like withdrawal of prohibition and got expelled from the party. His expulsion from DMK resulted in the formation of the AIADMK and the rest is history.

Did you know?
In October 1972, AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran who was the DMK treasurer back then and a rising star in the party when M Karunanidhi was the CM and DMK President, urged party leaders to reveal their assets in public besides questioning some state policies like withdrawal of prohibition and got expelled from the party.

Similarly, following the death of MGR in 1987, the AIADMK split into two factions, one headed by the former matinee idol’s wife Janaki and the other by his political protégé. While Janaki succeeded MGR as Chief Minister for a short period, both factions lost miserably to the DMK in the 1989 polls putting an end to the rivalry. With the crushing defeat, Janaki withdrew from politics and the AIADMK came together again under Jayalalithaa.

More than thirty years later, OPS and EPS are facing a similar situation with the latter wielding greater control over the party. Panneerselvam could take a cue from MGR and go out alone to test his strength among the cadre or stay away from the party and politics to give a chance to his former partner to steer the AIADMK forward successfully as the cadre believed. The AIADMK cadre, now rooting for Palaniswami as their leader to take on the DMK, might sing a different tune if he cannot steer the party to success in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. If he does succeed, OPS should accept the will of the people and pave way for a new AIADMK under Palaniswami.

Panneerselvam could take a cue from MGR and go out alone to test his strength among the cadre or stay away from the party and politics to give a chance to his former partner to steer the AIADMK forward successfully as the cadre believed.

Grace in the face of adversity is the hallmark of any successful politician and on that count, OPS has certainly not made a mark on that front in the most recent political battle that is unfolding in TN. In any political party, the cadre decides on who gets to lead the party and, in this case, Panneerselvam is certainly not their first choice. It is about time he accepts the fact and works towards gaining acceptance of the 1.5 crore AIADMK cadre as their leader.

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