Even as the unity moves between the two AIADMK factions seem to be going nowhere, former chief minister O Panneerselvam is working on a grand alliance of other Opposition parties, reports R Rajagopalan.
A mahagathbandhan or grand coalition may slowly be taking shape in Tamil Nadu between former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and other Opposition parties in the state.
Panneerselvam, who leads the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Puratchi Thalaivi Amma) faction, met Tamil Maanila Congress chief GK Vasan at his residence in Chennai recently and is believed to have discussed a possible electoral alliance for the July 2017 Tamil Nadu panchayat polls.
Vasan, who is in Delhi for the next few days, met the top BJP leadership in Delhi, but whether he talked about an alliance is not immediately known.
The mahagathbandhan is also likely to include Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam’s Vijayakanth, Pattali Makkal Katchi’s Dr S Ramadoss, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Vaiko and the state unit of the BJP.
This coalition is expected to give a tough fight to the main Opposition party in Tamil Nadu, the MK Karunanidhi-led Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
But what the alliance will also do, is sideline the AIADMK (Amma) faction led by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami.
Apart from meetings with leaders of political parties, OPS and his party leaders will tour Tamil Nadu next month in the birth centenary year of AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran. The tour will ensure that the party cadres are enthused after months of instability in the wake of J Jayalalithaa’s death in December last year, and enable OPS to get feedback from the rank and file loyal to her.
According to sources, at least 60 per cent of the undivided AIADMK's cadres are with Panneerselvam. The state tour will culminate in celebrations on June 8 and 9 in Chennai to mark MGR’s birth centenary year.
The attempt at consolidation of power comes because EPS is yet to accept Panneerselvam’s preconditions to a merger. They include:
- Remove VK Sasikala, her nephew TTV Dinakaran and 30 family members from all positions of power in the AIADMK.
- Sasikala and Dinakaran should formally resign from their posts.
- Withdraw the affidavits submitted to the Election Commission declaring Sasikala and Dinakaran as party general secretary and deputy general secretary, respectively.
- Order a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into J Jayalalithaa's death.
The OPS camp, whose jubilation at Dinakaran’s arrest was short-lived since he has not resigned as the party’s deputy general secretary, feels the chief minister has not taken their demands seriously.
The EPS faction, however, says that with Sasikala in jail and Dinakaran under a cloud it was unreasonable to expect leaders in the second tier to green-signal a merger.
The Panneerselvam camp, however, alleges that the EPS camp is dragging its feet over the merger since Dinakaran and Sasikala still have control over the AIADMK’s funds which run into thousands of crores. Till the two relinquish financial control over the party, the OPS team will not consider a merger.
Moreover, the EPS camp has been holding a meeting with district secretaries over the last three days to sign affidavits supporting him as the party head. The move to get an affidavit indicates that a merger of the two factions may not take place as district secretaries in the Palaniswami camp still owe their allegiance to Sasikala and Dinakaran.
A senior leader in the Panneerselvam camp said, “We will try to get more cadres and contest the panchayat elections in July 2017. Till then let us not waste our energy on talks of a merger,” admitting that the conditions they had set before EPS were tough.
The source also said that in the event Panneerselvam gets to be chief minister again, he would find the going tough. The senior leader said that Sasikala’s family will not obey OPS and it would be risky to face the AIADMK cadres and voters. This is why the tour of Tamil Nadu is so important since it will give Pannerselvam a clearer picture of where he stands.
However, other sources told Rediff.com that if the merger talks fail, half the Palaniswami camp will cross over to the OPS camp reducing the government to a minority.
For now, it's wait and watch in Tamil Nadu.
IMAGE: Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam.
R Rajagopalan is a senior journalist in New Delhi who has been reporting on Tamil Nadu affairs for decades.