OPS & EPS reunite as Gurumurthy brokers peace. Will AIADMK join NDA now?
The suspense in Tamil Nadu has finally ended with the two warring factions of the AIADMK reuniting on Monday. Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisami and former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam shook hands at a joint meeting at the party headquarters, ending six months of bickering.
The merger came about after Panneerselvam met Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week who is said to have told him to soften his stand and agree to merge with the rival EPS faction. Apparently, it was communicated to Panneerselvam that this was the only way to counter the threat to the government from the Sasikala clan.
Even so, Panneerselvam faced resistance from his supporters who wanted him to stick to his stand that Sasikala be completely taken out of the picture.
However, Edappadi met two other key demands made by OPS - a judicial enquiry into the death of J Jayalalithaa last year and turning her residence, Vedha Nilayam, into a memorial.
On Monday morning, it seemed as if the merger might get delayed as the two sides made little headway despite hectic parleys. This was almost a repeat of what happened last Friday.
Then senior ministers and EPS camp members SP Velumani and Thangamani met senior RSS ideologue and Thuglak editor S Gurumurthy, who helped them break the ice.
Reflecting the BJP’s thinking, Gurumurthy has taken the view that the AIADMK should be purged of corrupt elements (hinting towards the Sasikala clan) and reunited to reclaim the frozen ‘Two Leaves’ symbol so that it could align with the BJP whenever Tamil Nadu goes to the polls.
As part of the deal, Panneerselvam has been made Deputy Chief Minister and given the key portfolio of Finance while his colleague K Pandiarajan has been given the portfolio of Archeology and Tamil Development and Culture.
Within hours of the merger, Governor Ch Vidhyasagar Rao administered the oath to the two Ministers at a simple ceremony at Raj Bhavan, taking the strength of the Edappadi ministry to 35.
Besides inducting the two into the government, Edappadi also announced that OPS would be coordinator of the united party and he would be his deputy. Likewise, senior leader from the OPS camp KP Munisamy would be assistant coordinator while parliamentarian and former minister Vaithilaigam from the EPS group would also be assistant coordinator.
These announcements were made by Edappadi at the joint meeting of the reunited party.
The merger came about after Panneerselvam dropped the key demand for the complete removal of Sasikala.
Edappadi convinced OPS that since Sasikala had been elected by the general council of the united AIAMDK, she could be removed only after the two factions merged and called another meeting of the general council. In any case, she had been sidelined for all practical purposes and her appointee and deputy general secretary TT V Dinakaran had been declared persona non grata.
Such being the case, any overt action against Sasikala might provoke deposed deputy general secretary TTV Dinakaran, he feared.
Vaithilingam, former minister and newly appointed assistant coordinator, said that steps would be taken to remove Sasikala. He said that the general council of the now united party could be convened for this purpose.
Edappadi had agreed to take only two nominees from the OPS camp into his Ministry while Panneerselvam wanted former minister K Semmalai included as well. Edappadi did not want to reward too many rebels as it might add to the discontent of 123 MLAs who stood by him since the split last February
Likewise. Panneerselvam could not get a party post for another former minister Natham Viswanathan. As OPS has been named coordinator along with Edappadi, these leaders might be accommodated in the party over time.
As the two leaders clinched the merger deal, 18 ruling party legislators met the deposed Dinakaran, who still has a few cards up his sleeve.
He could bring down this government by asking the 18 dissident MLAs to inform the Governor that they were withdrawing support.
Even if they do, the Governor would have to ask the government to seek another confidence vote on the floor of the Assembly.
If events come to such a pass, the Chief Minister can petition the Speaker to take action against the rebels under the anti-defection law.
Now that the merger has taken place, the two erstwhile factions would have to withdraw their respective petitions filed before the Election Commission, one by EPS endorsing Sasikala’s election as general secretary and another by OPS camp questioning its legality. The frozen "Two Leaves" symbol can be freed only after the Election Commission closes the case.
Opposition parties like DMK, PMK and the Left parties have openly said that an inherently unstable government in Tamil Nadu suited the BJP’s interests.