Changing guard of AIADMK: Is BJP influencing the party to get rid of Sasikala, Dinakaran?
If everyone thought the expulsion of the Sasikala-Dinakaran duo would pave the way for an easy merger, the buzz on the ground does not suggest so.
The only people to meticulously follow the Tamil Nadu governments' heat wave advisory asking people to stay hydrated and preferably indoors this week, are the AIADMK politicians. They step out only after nightfall, plotting their moves in the company of long shadows in what threatens to become the longest running noctural political soap opera.
If everyone thought the expulsion of the Sasikala-Dinakaran duo would pave the way for an easy merger, the buzz on the ground does not suggest so. Sources in the O Panneerselvam camp admit they were rather taken aback by the tone and tenor of the press conference addressed on Tuesday night by Finance Minister D Jayakumar after a meeting of 20 ministers. They expected that the narrative will be to honour Panneerselvam's wish, they have decided to disassociate themselves from the Mannargudi clan. Instead, the ministers made it appear that it was their decision in deference to the mood of the party cadre and the people of Tamil Nadu.
While it appeared that Palaniswamy had blinked first, there was more than what met the eye. By sidelining the aunt and the nephew, the EPS group was washing away the Chinnamma taint that they had acquired by staying on for one week at the Golden Bay Resort in February, backing Sasikala. 'The Koovathur boys' as the group is referred to derisively in Tamil Nadu, because of the location of the resort, were the new 'M/s Clean' in town. Panneerselvam had competition.
Panneerselvam on Tuesday morning had hardened his position and put two conditions for a merger. Expel Sasikala and Dinakaran and order a commission of inquiry into Jayalalithaa's death. By carrying out the first demand — the main one in the pecking order — the EPS camp had taken the sting out of the OPS battle. On Wednesday, Panneerselvam campers were left harping on the demand for a probe.
There is also an element of trust deficit. The suspicion is that by sacking the duo, Palaniswamy is trying to endear himself to the powers-that-be in Delhi. It is not just the Dinakaran camp that has accused the BJP of playing a part in the internal affairs of the AIADMK. Many observers also feel that the invisible pressure from the Centre is what is moving many pieces on the political chessboard in Chennai. It is logical for EPS campers to believe that in the post-Sasikala era, they can be on the right side of the BJP, replacing Panneerselvam.
The merger talks between the two factions have been stuck on who gets what. The Panneerselvam camp is keen that OPS becomes the chief minister and also the general secretary of the party. That is not acceptable by the rival camp that sees no reason why OPS who should merely be doing a 'ghar waapsi', be allowed to dictate terms. Palaniswamy who is as senior in the AIADMK as Panneerselvam, also is in no mood to hand over the top job to OPS on a platter. The hardening of positions on both sides is what has delayed a compromise formula and a merger.
Dinakaran has his legal mess to sort out with the Delhi Police team arriving in Chennai along with Sukesh Chandrasekhar, who is accused of taking funds from Dinakaran to bribe Election Commission officials to get the two leaves symbol for his faction of the AIADMK. Though the jury is out on the merits of the case given the curious language in the FIR, that pressure seems to have played a part in Dinakaran laying down arms rather tamely, contrary to what everyone believed. It is now quite possible that even the eight MLAs who are standing by his side, could make a return to the ruling group. Which means in terms of numbers, Palaniswamy may not even need the OPS buffer to stay on as chief minister.
But despite the clean-up act and having the numbers, it is the elephant in the room that has got the Palaniswamy camp worried. That exists in the form of central agencies. With the names of five other ministers and a Rajya Sabha MP figuring in the documents that were recovered during the raid on Health Minister C Vijayabaskar's properties two weeks ago, the ruling brass is a worried lot. That list pertains to cash for votes in the RK Nagar by-election and the implication is that each senior leader was asked to buy votes for Dinakaran. Today anyone in the AIADMK with skeletons in the cupboard is clear he does not want to incur the wrath of the sleuths from Delhi. So long as there is no knock on the door and no snap polls, it makes no difference to the black sheep whether Panneerselvam is the chief minister or Palaniswamy.
So far the impression that has gained ground is that the BJP in Delhi wants Panneerselvam as chief minister. It sees him as Jayalalithaa's political successor and someone with administrative experience. A grateful OPS would also allow the BJP to remote control him to an extent. For the BJP, it will be a win-win situation, as it would have a big regional party it can dictate terms to.
The dramatic developments have meant just about every senior AIADMK leader has taken a U-turn. M Thambidurai, the Deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha, for instance had on 2 January written a letter asking Sasikala to take over as chief minister. Today he is party to the decision to throw her out of the AIADMK. The irony of this 'Swachh AIADMK Abhiyan' is that leaders used only to prostrating before Sasikala and looking at her feet, have been asked to give her the boot. Something they would not have imagined in their wildest dreams.
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