The two rival factions of the AIADMK may have merged, but there are problems staring at it on all fronts – governmental, political, electoral and organisational, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
The euphoria created by the merger of two of the three factions of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu is for real, yes, but it seems to presuppose legalities in their favour, and against the third faction, kept out purposefully, that too precisely to facilitate the merger.
The two factions led by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (known as EPS) and three-time Chief Minister O Panneerselvam (known as OPS) have decided to form a coordination committee under the latter’s leadership with the former functioning as his deputy.
The merger has also produced an 11-member coordination committee, with no one from the southern districts being named to any of the four designated posts, allotted two each for the factions, thus far.
On the government side, the merger makes OPS only the second deputy chief minister in the state after rival DMK’s M K Stalin (2006-11). But it also makes him the ubiquitous second ‘Permanent Number Two’ in Dravidian polity, after the late V R Nedunchezhiyan who remained so both in the DMK and the breakaway AIADMK.
The ‘merged entity’ has since announced their decision to ‘expel’ Sasikala Natarajan as ‘general secretary’ of the party by calling for an early meeting of the party’s general council. It was one of the two pre-conditions laid down by the OPS faction for the merger, but the other was visibly reluctant to do so until after the merger.
The consternation on both sides was visible till the last minute as the merger event was put off by a few hours on Monday afternoon. Yet, the decisions and also follow-up actions are not without anticipation of future hiccups, both in the legislative/government and organisational fronts.
On the government front, T T V Dinakaran, already sacked ‘deputy general secretary’ of the party, named by Sasikala without authorisation and more so without intimation to the EC, met with 18 MLAs supporting the faction. The number is down from the original that had shown up in the first round and 20 that appeared with Dhinakaran in his Madurai rally last week.
However, Dinakaran claimed, without evidence, that they had ‘sleeper cells’ of MLAs in the other faction(s), meaning the breakaway EPS group. But even if the Sasi-TTV camp is able to hold on to their 18 MLAs, the government has lost its required majority in the 234-seat assembly.
With Jayalalithaa’s R K Nagar seat still lying vacant after the EC countermanded polling, blaming TTV, the AIADMK (Amma) candidate, for large-scale voter-buying, the camp’s 18 MLAs can reduce the government’s legislative strength to 117, including Speaker P Dhanapal, just one below the required 118 in a 234-seat assembly.
If nothing else, this makes the government look unstable right at birth. The TTV camp can still insist on the governor asking EPS to move a record second trust-vote in six months, and but for the speaker technically being able to ‘disqualify’ some or all his MLAs, the government could fall without any initiative by or cooperation from the Opposition DMK-Congress combine with its 98 members.
Yet, the government and the party could lose public face should the speaker decide to disqualify ‘rebel’ MLAs. There could also be a long drawn-out court battle over such a wholesale ‘disqualification’ or even partial disqualification, with hopes and adjustments for the rest to ‘return to the parent party’.
On the organisational front, too the AIADMK bylaws authorise only the general secretary to appoint committees and nominate a deputy general secretary. The EC’s objection to TTV was that Sasikala as general secretary had not intimated their office about his nomination, and not to the nomination, per se. Because OPS faction had contested her own election, TTV’s nomination too became coloured.
For an Indian political party, only the AIADMK’s bylaws mandate that the general secretary, the party boss, should be elected by all primary members. Both MGR, who invented the laws to tell the people that the AIADMK was different from the ‘autocratic’ parent DMK leadership of then Chief Minister M Karunanidhi (1972), circumvented the rule by having the general council nominate him, or anyone else identified by him, and get them ‘elected’ through voice vote in a public rally. Jayalalithaa too followed suit.
But neither MGR, nor his interim nominees, and not certainly Jaya, faced any challenge within the party or in courts, to their respective election as party general secretary. Now, however, the Sasi faction could still contest the merger-centric decisions in the relevant courts, in which she said before going to Bengaluru prison that they had a ‘long experience’ and possible expertise.
In contesting Sasikala’s nomination, which he himself had proposed, OPS cited the party bylaws, and even sent in container-loads of primary members’ objections to the nomination. The Sasi faction, of which the EPS group formed an integral part, too sent in their own truckloads, they having commenced the process of member attestations much early on.
Despite months having passed since it held the last hearing, the EC does not seem to have identified a verifiable method to check, or even test-check the authenticity of the rival claims, and that of individual attestations submitted before it.
Nor is any court in the country equipped to undertake such an exercise, Aadhaar-enabled or not.
It is another matter that AIADMK membership does not seem to have been Aadhaar-enabled even at the entry-level for the EC/SC to identify a scientific way for membership-verification.
It is thus the merger decisions have been based on the assumption that the EC will readily accept the joint submissions by the merged entity to withdraw their earlier petitions, of course joining now in the name of EPS for the Sasi faction, as the organisational secretary appointed by Jayalalithaa, when alive and continued as such under Sasi, too, so to say.
Even if the EC and subsequently the courts accept their joint contention, the battle for the assembly strength remains, and it is the mostly likely first issue that could crop up, here and now.
Alternatively, if the floor test, real or technical, ends as a damp squib and in favour of the merged party, then the game is all but over for the Sasi-TTV faction, which is already left forlorn by the very same people who fell at her feet and before the camera until she went to prison.
Independent of the issues involving the Sasi faction, the unified party still has the opportunity to prove itself to the cadres and voters alike, between now and parliamentary polls in 2019 and assembly elections later on in 2021.
As with the OPS and EPS governments after Jaya’s death, the unified leadership could show the people how the administration is more accessible than even under Jaya.
But behind all this the hidden hand of Bharatiya Janata Party is too visible, and it can still create problems of Dalit and minority votes, which account for 30 per cent of the electorate, without reference to committed anti-BJP and anti-AIADMK votes, especially with the DMK. It can create new situations that neither the BJP, nor the AIADMK, may have bargained for, at present.
The other test for the unified party, and possibly the Sasi faction, or whatever remains of it at the time, could be the R K Nagar by-election, which the EC has kept countermanded without any justifiable explanation.
The real test then would be for the rival DMK, which was out of the political game in the state over these post-split months, when it was only the AIADMK factions that mattered to the media and otherwise, too.
The real test for the AIADMK too could commence there, if and when any local voter or even the truncated Sasi faction contested any possible allocation of the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol to the unified entity in court, leading to an interim freeze all over again.
Alternatively, post-merger, the unified entity cannot afford not to face early by-polls in R K Nagar, for more reasons than one.
The OPS-led Puratchi Thalaivi Amma AIADMK had fielded local veteran E Madhusoodhanan, who was also the party presidium chairman, both of the faction and also of the AIADMK under Jayalalithaa.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is Director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.