Attempt to merge AIADMK factions fails as Sasikala, Dinakaran refuse to quit
Lok Sabha deputy speaker M Thambidurai's attempt to bring together the two factions of the AIADMK failed on Tuesday, with AIADMK (Amma) group leaders K Sasikala and TTV Dinakaran refusing to step down, as demanded by O Panneerselvam of the rival camp.
Thambidurai and several ministers, including Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami, took the initiative to merge their group with the OPS faction to regain the frozen 'two leaves' symbol and save the government from collapse, in the wake of Income Tax raids on Health Minister C Vijayabaskar and registration of cases against three other ministers by the Chennai Police, on the grounds that they obstructed the tax men from doing their duty.
What transpired on Monday night
Panneerselvam, who came to head a rival group after he revolted against Sasikala and Dinakaran, welcomed the merger move. What he left unsaid was that his quarrel was only with these two, and that others in the rival group were welcome to join hands with him.
Desperate to save the beleaguered ministers who had got embroiled in the cash-for-votes scam in the RK Nagar constituency by-election at the behest of Dinakaran, Thambidurai met Palaniswami on Monday, taking at face value OPS's statement that he welcomed a merger.
This led to hectic consultations among the various ministers, which went on late into the night, even as Dinakaran rushed to Bengaluru to meet his aunt Sasikala, who is serving time in jail there upon her conviction in a disproportionate assets case.
There was an indication late in the night that all was not well, when senior minister D Jayakumar, after consultations, told reporters that they discussed affidavits to be got from partymen for presentation to the Election Commission for claiming the symbol.
He also said that his faction had sought eight weeks' time to present its case. This is because the claim can only be made by Sasikala, in her capacity as general secretary of the faction, and not even Dinakaran, as has been made clear by the Election Commission.
If the merger was to reclaim the symbol without any hassles, where was the need for both the groups present their separate claims?
As the EC could not be expected to wait for the convenience of the warring factions, the OPS group presented its case on Monday through senior lawyer and former MP Manoj Pandian.
Sticking to his guns
Moreover, though there was talk of merger, there was no meeting between the two groups; only consultations among themselves.
Panneerselvam ended the uncertainty on Tuesday afternoon when he said a merger would be possible only if the Sasikala family was sent out of the party. He also reiterated that the appointment of Sasikala as general secretary was illegal, and as such, all her actions, including expelling him from the parent party, had no legal sanctity.
He also stuck to his demand for a probe into the circumstances surrounding the death of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, the innuendo being that her personal aide Sasikala, who was with her right through the 75 days in hospital, had a lot to answer for.
OPS invokes Jaya's past removal of Sasi
Immediately after Panneerselvam spelt out his terms, Dinakaran told reporters after meeting Sasikala in Bengaluru that there was no question of either them resigning from the party.
Supporting his stand, legislator Vettrivel said that Panneerselvam had hardened his stand by raking up old issues and putting conditions for a merger. He said the confabulations of the ministers were not authorised by Dinakaran.
Mylapore MLA and former Director-General of Police M Natraj, who is with the OPS camp, said a merger would be in the interest of both the groups as the government had become dysfunctional and issues crying for attention like the farmers' agitation etc. were not being attended to. People would not tolerate this state of affairs for long, he warned.
He said there was no question of compromising on the demand for the removal of Sasikala and Dinakaran, as OPS had only stuck to the position taken by Jayalalithaa in 2012 when she readmitted Sasikala into the party. Jaya had come to know that Sasikala was planning to capture the party, and the latter only got back into her good books after she publicly apologised and promised she would never again hanker for any post.
The OPS camp has been saying that Sasikala flouted this promise when she usurped the post of general secretary within months of Jaya's passing, and even made a bid for chief ministership. Not only that, Jaya had expelled Dinakaran too, but never readmitted him. It was Sasi who re-inducted him and made him her deputy before she was taken to the Bengaluru jail, Panneerselvam had said.
Dinakaran's mounting troubles
With the ministers having defied him, it remains to be seen how Dinakaran plans to contain this revolt as his own stock is down since the cancellation of the RK Nagar by-election. On top of this, an economic offence court in Chennai has taken up for day-to-day hearing a criminal case filed by the Enforcement Directorate against Dinakaran and Sasikala over violation of the now-defunct Foreign Exchange Regulation Act over import of equipment for JJ TV, forerunner to the present Jaya TV, way back in 1996.
In a curious twist to the ongoing drama, the Delhi Police has registered a case against Dinakaran on the basis of information that he paid Rs 50 crore to a middleman to bribe Election Commission officials to get the symbol for his faction.
The police claims to have recovered Rs 1.30 crore from middleman Sukesh Chandrasekhar, who allegedly agreed to fix the deal for Dinakaran. Sukesh is a racketeer who has several criminal cases against him.
A top police official said they were in possession of have telephone intercepts of the conversation between Dinakaran and Chandrasekhar. Dinakaran has said: “I have never heard of this man. I speak to so many people on telephone and that does not make me complicit in any crime.”
He has said if summoned, he will take legal recourse.