Two crowded at the top

This might be the beginning of EPS’s troubles as the two warring factions will now battle for not just the party office but even the party symbol and party flag, an arena where the Election Commission could step in.
Edappadi Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam
Edappadi Palaniswami and O PanneerselvamFile photo

CHENNAI: July 11 could be viewed as a red letter day for the chief Opposition in Tamil Nadu, on account of the proceedings that transpired when the AIADMK conducted its General Council meet in Vanagaram. Like the fallout of a self-fulfilling prophecy, events foreshadowed in the previous GC meet held last month came to a head on Monday. Party coordinator O Panneerselvam, who hoped for a last minute reprieve from the Madras High Court, was disappointed by the MHC that once again permitted the meet to proceed as per plan.

This time, the usually reserved OPS did not take things lying down as cadres who had sworn their allegiance to him went on a rampage, and targeted the nerve centre of the Opposition ‑ the AIADMK party headquarters. However, the rebellion was soon quelled, and OPS’s chief adversary Edappadi K Palaniswamy was appointed as the party general secretary. It brought an end to OPS’s quest for maintaining the status quo and continuing with the dual leadership format that had been the norm since the passing of the AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa.

While some believe that this might have been an advantageous position for EPS as he is now the de-facto AIADMK chief, one must view this development in the context of how it could shape the AIADMK’s power structure. For one, OPS’s storming of the political bastion has prompted revenue officials to seal off the party headquarters, denying EPS an office from where he can conduct his party affairs. The shutdown of the party office has been carried out on account of law and order concerns, a prerogative that rests solely with the government.

This might be the beginning of EPS’s troubles as the two warring factions will now battle for not just the party office but even the party symbol and party flag, an arena where the Election Commission could step in. EPS might also have to deal with a few skeletons in his closet, namely the MHC’s order to the CBI to conduct a probe on allegations of corruption regarding the awarding of state highway contracts.

The situation that the AIADMK finds itself in right now is reminiscent of the power struggle that ensued between MGR’s wife Janaki and J Jayalalithaa. Following MGR’s death, Janaki was sworn in as the CM of the State in January 1988. Shortly after, the AIADMK had undergone a split with Janaki assuming the role of the president of her faction, whereas J Jayalalithaa was appointed as the general secretary of her faction. A month later, the assembly was thrown into chaos during the vote of confidence, following which President’s Rule was imposed in the State.

Even then, two leaves symbol got frozen, after which in January 1989, Jayalalithaa blazed past Janaki in the polls with the former’s faction bagging 27 seats leaving Janaki with a solitary seat. A month later, after Janaki accepted defeat, AIADMK was united under Jayalalithaa, while retaining its two-leaves symbol. A repeat of this saga played out in the aftermath of Jayalalithaa’s death, which led to the dramatic ascension of VK Sasikala, as the party’s general secretary who was then backed by EPS and TTV Dhinakaran but faced opposition from Jayalalithaa loyalist OPS, who termed his struggle as a dharma yuddh.

No matter who wins the battle for the seat of power in the party, the ultimate loser in this game is the AIADMK’s vote share. The 2026 Assembly election and the 2024 parliamentary elections could be major decisive factors in shaping its fortunes. Without strong leadership in place, the opportunity is ripe for aggressive parties like the BJP among others, who are closely watching the developments here, lying in wait for a chance to gain foothold when the time is right.

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