AIADMK merger chances brighten as Tamil Nadu govt order probe into Jaya's death
The battle for political power in Tamil Nadu has been intense ever since the death of J Jayalalitha last December. The 68-year-old former chief minister and AIADMK supremo died following a cardiac arrest on 5 December after being in hospital for 75 days.
Now, the stage is set for the merger of the two AIADMK factions with an announcement from Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami - that a judicial committee will be set up to investigate the death of his predecessor - one of the main demands of the faction of former chief minister O Panneerselvam.
The name of the retired high court judge and the terms of reference will be announced later, he said.
Palaniswami also announced that Vedha Nilayam, where Jayalalithaa lived in Poes Garden in Chenna, would be turned into a memorial. This was the second main demand from the other camp.
The third demand has been met halfway too with the nullification of the appointment of TTV Dinakaran as deputy general secretary.
This wasn't a difficult demand to fulfil as Dinakaran had already been expelled by Jayalalithaa in 2011 along with his aunt VK Sasikala. While Sasikala was readmitted into the party, Dinakaran was kept out till Jayalalithaa’s death.
The appointment game
The Panneerselvam camp has questioned the legality of Sasikala’s election as general secretary last February by the general council as she was not a member for five continuous years as is required by the party’s bylaws since she was readmitted only in March 2013.
However, Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai pointed out, Sasikala was made interim general secretary by the general council last February and can thus only be removed only by the council.
But for such an action to be taken, the two factions will have to merge and call a general council to elect a new set of office-bearers which will then supersede all previous appointments.
The Palaniswami faction has said that as her own position as general secretary has been challenged by the rival group before the Election Commission, her appointment of Dinakaran as her deputy before she went to jail to serve a three-year jail term in Bengaluru upon her conviction in the assets case is not legally binding.
To reinforce this stand, Palaniswami got the party adopt a resolution declaring Dinakaran’s appointment as null and void.
But as Pannerselvam played hard to get, the deadlock was resolved only after he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi earlier this week at which he was told to agree to the merger so that the united AIADMK can not only reclaim AIADMK's “Two Leaves” symbol, which was frozen but he Election Commission, but also meet the threat to the government posed by Dinakaran’s loyalists.
Dinakaran recently rewarded 20 such MLAs with party posts to signal that he was ready to strike. Even though these MLAs are yet to take up the posts, they have not refused the offer either.
Stage for merger set
Welcoming Palaniswami’s decisions, former minister and a leading member of the OPS group K Pandiarajan says now that their main demands had been met, committees set up by the two groups could start talking to finalise the term of merger.
Under a tentative agreement talked about, Palaniswami will continue as CM while Pannerselvam will be asked to head the party, not as general secretary as only the general council can do that, but as head of a steering committee. Besides, Palaniswami has also offered to induct him into the Government as Deputy CM and also give plum portfolios to others like Pandiarajan
The merger will stabilise the government which has a thin five-vote majority in the Assembly. In the house of 234, the government has the proven support of 122 MLAs out of the total 133 AIADMK legislators minus Jayalalitha whose seat RK Nagar seat is vacant. Even if five MLAs desert, the government will collapse.
The merger will bring the support of 11 Pannerselvam legislators to the government and give it a measure of stability.
Ironically, Dinakaran has already welcomed the proposal for a judicial enquiry into Jaya’s death as it will help clear suspicion against his aunt Sasikala.
K Vettrivel, a legislator openly supporting Dinakaran has said the decisions to conduct a judicial enquiry and make Jaya’s house into a memorial have their approval.
The DMK, the main opposition, has however termed the enquiry as belated. It has already questioned the propriety of having a memorial for Jaya as she has been found of guilty of corrupt practices in the assets case along with Sasikala by the Supreme Court.
DMK working president M K Stalin dismissed the decision to hold as enquiry as an "eyewash" and demanded that Palaniswami resign.