AIADMK crisis: TTV Dhinakaran's comeback bid puts Edappadi Palaniswamy and O Panneerselvam on shaky ground
The realisation also seems to be dawning on the party seniors that the Tamil Nadu government is slowly slipping out of its hands.
That wasn't part of TTV Dhinakaran's original plan but his Mannargudi clan with the swelling numbers in its ranks has hit two set of AIADMK leaders with one rebellion. While the government in Chennai is tottering, clearly reduced to a minority, five AIADMK MPs too are on shaky ground, unsure of an invite to Rashtrapathi Bhavan this week. They have been jostling for one cabinet and two ministers of state berths that were reportedly on offer in the NDA government.
The reason being the grand AIADMK merger that has not achieved what it set out to. While nudging the Edappadi Palaniswamy and O Panneerselvam camps to shake hands, the powers-that-be did not foresee that it will lead to many AIADMK MLAs openly opting for the VRS - Voluntary Rejection Scheme. The calculation was power would be the magnet to attract even the Sasikala loyalists into the ruling group. So when as many as 19 MLAs trooped into Raj Bhavan to tell Governor Vidyasagar Rao that EPS no longer enjoyed their confidence, it caused a flutter.
But the initial reaction was 19 was a manageable number and at least half a dozen of them would do a ghar wapsi, rendering Dhinakaran's revolt impotent. But with numbers swelling to 23, the estimate now is that the Dhinakaran camp strength could go up to 32. The ruling clique can no longer ignore the writing on the wall.
Which is why there is rethink in New Delhi over whether admitting the AIADMK MPs into the ministry makes sense at this point in time. Doing so, the argument goes, would automatically mean Chennai's mess will be transferred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah's courtyard. It will be seen as much as BJP's headache as the AIADMK's.
With the final call to be taken by the prime minister, the AIADMK MPs are in the national capital to lobby with the BJP bigwigs, not giving up hope. If the prime minister goes ahead, sources suggest V Maitreyan is the frontrunner for the sole cabinet berth. However, if M Thambidurai wants to leave his Lok Sabha deputy speaker's post to become a cabinet minister, the race could get tight and even ugly given the two are not known to enjoy the best of relations. Tamil Nadu fisheries minister D Jayakumar has been lobbying hard for his 30-year-old MP son from South Chennai, Jayavardhan to become a junior minister. That is also perhaps the reason why he gave up his high-profile finance portfolio for OPS.
AIADMK parliamentary party leader P Venugopal and senior leader R Vaithialingam are the other two MPs in contention. While Venugopal is a Dalit, the latter made a case for himself by announcing that Sasikala will be expelled soon. Given his CV as a Sasikala loyalist, the U-turn was meant to buttress Vaithialingam's chances.
There are other factors as well that are contributing to an overall sense of uncertainty in the AIADMK camp. Sources say the OPS and EPS factions still have an uneasy equation with the each other, with some in the erstwhile Panneerselvam group feeling shortchanged in the distribution of goodies. For instance, Semmalai till the last minute was confident he will be inducted as health minister but it did not happen. The expectation was that OPS would bargain for four cabinet berths including himself but only Pandiarajan got it, that too with a less important portfolio of Tamil culture and archaeology. The feeling is that only OPS got a decent deal as party coordinator, deputy chief minister with plum portfolios of finance, Housing and urban development.
The realisation also seems to be dawning on the party seniors that the Tamil Nadu government is slowly slipping out of its hands. The focus is now on ensuring EPS and OPS do not lose control of the party. Which explains the hurry to get the two leaves symbol for itself and get the Election Commission to announce its decision on Sasikala's election as party general secretary. It also wants to proceed legally to wrest control of Jaya TV, that has been its visible mouthpiece for years now and is closely associated with Jayalalithaa. Sasikala's family controls it now and has described the TV channel as private property.
But there is no guarantee what could happen if the ruling camp expels Sasikala at the general council meeting on 12 September. Palaniswamy's calculation is that MLAs will desert the Dhinakaran camp and rush back. But with 35-odd legislators bunking the meeting at the party office on Monday, it is obvious the split is wide open in the party.
The DMK delegation that met the Tamil Nadu governor on Sunday requested him to order a floor test. With the opposition party planning to petition the President of India as well on Thursday, Vidyasagar Rao cannot keep a mute spectator for long. If Dhinakaran, whose sole aim is to gain control of the AIADMK, manages to hold his flock together, September may well see the end game for the Tamil Nadu saga that started on the night of 22 September 2016, when Jayalalithaa was admitted to hospital.
For that long a period, Tamil Nadu too has been in the ICU.
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