AIADMK merger and fight over symbol: With OPS' demands and Sasikala's resolve, it's about who blinks first

It may seem the last roll of the dice in the ongoing political saga in Tamil Nadu but those in the know say it ain't over till VK Sasikala sings. And all indications so far suggest she is in no mood to provide the orchestra to celebrate a Panneerselvam coronation.

Even as the media is agog with speculation that a merger is just a matter of time, what it has not factored in are the pulls and pressures taking place from both sides. The O Panneerselvam (OPS) camp's insistence on bagging all the three top posts — chief minister, party general secretary and Presidium chairman — has miffed the Edappadi Palaniswami (EPS) camp. While OPS projects himself as having been Jayalalithaa's chosen one on more than one occasion, EPS was hoping to stay the chief minister while allowing OPS to become party chief. Offering the post of deputy chief minister to EPS is an option the OPS camp is mulling but there is no clarity if the chief minister will agree to a demotion.

Hurdle number two is the narrative being spun in the mainstream media with active inputs from the OPS social media team that the EPS camp legislators are flocking to the OPS camp. Spreading this impression, the Palaniswami camp feels, amounts to humiliating them especially since they are now the ruling formation. "Have you heard anywhere about the party in government with 122 lawmakers merging with a party with eleven MLAs?" asked a senior member of the EPS camp, admitting it has become an ego issue for many in their group.

Tamil Nadu ministers addressed media after a sudden meeting to retrieve two leaves symbol in Chennai on Monday. PTI

Tamil Nadu ministers addressed media after a sudden meeting to retrieve two leaves symbol in Chennai on Monday. PTI

Intertwined in this is also the caste angle. A Thevar (OPS) replacing a Gounder (EPS) as chief minister may not go down very well with the latter caste. These two communities, powerful in the southern and western parts of Tamil Nadu respectively, are the pillars of support for the AIADMK and the Gounders for long have felt that Thevars despite having lesser number of MLAs (20) than the Gounders (28) in the AIADMK legislature party have grabbed more ministerial berths.

The third roadblock is the group of at least 25 MLAs who are personally loyal to Sasikala and by extension, Dinakaran. Most of them are not gung-ho about the return of Panneerselvam as they see him as having gotten lucky a bit too often. Some of them are also suspicious of his proximity to the BJP leadership in Delhi and feel he will reduce the AIADMK to the Tamil Nadu desk of the BJP.

There are some like health minister Vijayabaskar or even senior MLA Senthil Balaji who do not see a ministerial chair for themselves in the new arrangement and are therefore not excited about the merger. Many also feel they owe their political career to Jayalalithaa and Sasikala and do not see any reason to worship a new rising sun in the party for their political future.

The fourth problem area is Panneerselvam's insistence on appointing a commission of inquiry into Jayalalithaa's death. The other side feels this will only end up washing dirty AIADMK linen in public and also make Sasikala harden her position. Realising these complicated knots, an attempt was made on Monday to rope in Dhivakaran, Sasikala's brother. Some in the EPS camp want to replace one D (Dinakaran) with another D (Dhivakaran) and assure OPS that he will not hold a party post but only be a guiding force from behind the scenes as the pointsperson from the Mannargudi family.

This is an interesting move because Dhivaharan and Dinakaran do not get along. But it would need Dhivaharan to convince Sasikala to dump Dinakaran. Will she do so and bless this new power of attorney is a big question mark given that her first choice as deputy general secretary was Dinakaran, not Dhivaharan. Also, there is no guarantee that OPS will agree to this. Chances are that he will not as any shadow of Sasikala or any of her family members, undermines his authority.

A file image of VK Sasikala. PTI

A file image of VK Sasikala. PTI

Despite all these hurdles, why a significant number of legislators are still willing to shake hands with OPS, calling the events since February as merely a family issue, is because none of them wants to face a snap poll. Having spent a fortune in the 2016 polls, all of them are woefully short of funds. In the past, sources say much of the funding happened at the party level courtesy Sasikala which is why despite her prisoner status, no one wants the exit button to be pressed on her in a crass manner. As far as the MLAs are concerned, there is a lot to be grateful for.

What will be on Dinakaran's mind? His first priority will be to get out of the Delhi Police mess but that has now got linked to the pressure on him to quit as deputy general secretary. The case has weakened his bargaining strength but it would be a mistake to underestimate Dinakaran. All said and done, he managed to ensure the MLAs did not desert his aunt in February by putting them up at Golden Bay resort, 60 km from Chennai. There is no reason he will go down without a fight.

It will finally come down to who will blink first especially since Delhi Police is a significant non-political player in this game of thrones. If Dinakaran and Sasikala lay down their arms, the game is over. But if they do not and EPS refuses to vacate his chair, it will be back to political rhetoric and status quo.

Updated Date: Apr 18, 2017 14:39 PM

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