In a watershed event for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Dravida Kazhagam, the party on Tuesday elevated Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) as its supreme leader, the general secretary, moments after deposed leader O Panneerselvam (OPS) lost one more legal battle against his expulsion from the party.
While the Madras high court rejected the pleas of Panneerselvam and his aides against their expulsion from AIADMK, 68-year old Palaniswami for the first time became the general secretary after the post's revival last year. Before his elevation, EPS was the interim general secretary.
Party founder-leader M G Ramachandran (MGR), former party supremo J Jayalalithaa, Navalar VR Nedunchezhiyan, P U Shanmugam and S Raghavanandam were the only other leaders who had held that top post in the AIADMK, which was founded in 1972.
On being elevated, cadres gave Palaniswami a rousing welcome and made him wear a dark glass and bright white cap just like MGR and he happily waved at cadres, seen as a gesture of bringing the party under his full control, very much like his iconic predecssors, MGR and Jayalalithaa. He swung into action immediately and announced a new membership drive.
Though Palaniswami assuming the top position has brought the curtain down on the leadership issue, the battle is set to continue in courts as the OPS camp is determined to take forward its legal struggle.
Political commentator and observer of AIADMK since the 1970s, Durai Karuna told PTI that this development does not mean that OPS could be "written off" from the political landscape of Tamil Nadu.
Like in the past (1989), if the AIADMK faces electoral setbacks it may lead to a situation warranting factions eased out of the party to join hands once again, he said. "In politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies. It is the electoral outcomes and several other factors that prove to be decisive," he said.
He pointed to aspects like the resentment among several Most Backward communities against the EPS regime's internal quota of 10.5 percent to the Vanniyar community.
Parallelly, he pointed to OPS continuing to strengthen his faction organically across the state by appointing office-bearers right from the grassroots level.
"OPS has vowed to take the battle to the people's court. Especially in southern districts, it could have a bearing on electoral politics," he said.
OPS belongs to the Mukkulathor community, also known as Thevars, who wield a decisive electoral clout in southern Tamil Nadu. "OPS was handpicked by Jayalalithaa and he has the credential of being trusted by her and factors such as these will come in handy for the OPS camp," Karuna said.
Panneerselvam and his aides went to the Madras HC against the AIADMK's July 11, 2022, general council resolutions, one of which expelled him and his supporters including Paul Manoj Pandian and R Vaithilingam.
Justice K Kumaresh Babu said that the AIADMK's general council resolutions relating to the expulsion of Panneerselvam and appointing his rival K Palaniswami as the then interim chief were prima facie valid.
The HC said: "It has been brought to the notice of this court that the general council consists of 2,665 members; 2,190 members have made a requisition to convene the general council, 2,460 members have attended the meeting of the general council on July 11, 2022 and they voted in favour of the resolutions."
There is a prima facie case in favour of amendment of bye-laws -- to revive the post of general secretary and other changes -- and if the election to the post of general secretary is injucted, it would affect the functioning of the political party.
"Hence I do not find any prima facie case, balance of convenience or irreparable injury in favour of the applicants (OPS and his supporters), but on the other hand, I find that the injunction as prayed for is granted, irreparable injury would be caused to the first respondent (EPS and party), as it would affect the functioning of the political party (AIADMK) which has over 1.55 crores primary members in the state of Tamil Nadu," the judge noted.
Following Jayalalithaa's demise in 2016, the warring OPS and EPS factions came together ousting VK Sasikala -- confidante of Jayalalithaa -- and her relatives and amended the party bye-laws designating Jayalalithaa as the eternal general secretary.
It came up with a new dual leadership structure giving equal powers to EPS and OPS and made them joint-coordinator and coordinator respectively.
The dual leadership was scrapped last year and Panneerselvam and his supporters were expelled, leading to legal battles in the Madras high court and the Supreme Court and the matter also reached the Election Commission. OPS and his team had lost in several such battles.