A week after All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) lost power in the assembly elections, the party which faced leadership crisis after the death of supremo J Jayalalithaa, again faced a tussle. This time, it was not about the leadership of the party, but for the crucial post of Leader of Opposition.
AIADMK has been marred by faction fights ever since the sad demise of the party’s supremo and former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in December, 2016. Immediately after her death O Panneerselvam (OPS) was sworn in as interim Chief Minister. Soon factionalism started with the rise of Jayalalithaa’s close aide VK Sasikala as she catapulted herself to the post of AIADMK general secretary which was held by Jayalalithaa. Sasikala not only aspired to rein top by taking full control of the party, but also wanted to emulate the late Jayalalithaa as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. But she had to step down as her dreams got shattered as she was convicted and sentenced to four years sentence in Bangalore Parapana Jail.
OPS revolted the move and undertook satyagraha at Jayalaithaa’s samamdhi in Chennai. But Sasikala anointed her nephew TTV Dhinakaran, as Deputy General Secretary in her absence which created furore with several senior leaders. In fact TTV Dhinkaran was ousted by Jayalalithaa and even stripped off the basic membership. Soon, the mantle was passed on to Edappadi Palaniswamy (EPS) and he became the Chief Minister in Feburary,2017. Since then, slowly he not only steered the ship but also settled for an amicable truce with OPS and offered him Deputy Chief Minister post. Subsequently, a general council meeting was organised in September 2017 and ousted Sasikala from the party and also quashed her decision to anoint her nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran as deputy general secretary of the party. From then on Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam became Coordinator and Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami became and co-coordinator of the unified AIADMK.
Despite simmering internal conflicts and continued vigorous attacks by the DMK to topple the government, the twin leadership of AIADMK thwarted all attempts and successfully completed its full term. Notwithstanding several alleged the charges of nepotism and accusation of being a stooge of BJP, EPS steadied the AIADMK ship during the tumultuous phase in the history of AIADMK that too in the absence the stalwarts like MGR and Jayalalithaa. Indeed, the four and half years of rule was praised by large section of people as overall EPS did a fair job be it law and order, governance and above all steering the state in the fight against Corona.
Though AIADMK lost power in the recently concluded elections, indeed AIADMK under EPS has fought a hard battle and ensured that AIADMK is still a strong force in Tamil Nadu. Winning 66 seats in a multi cornered contest, is no mean achievement and EPS has emerged as a strong leader.
Also the fact remains that the results have once again revealed the dominance of the two Dravidian majors -- DMK and AIADMK -- as no candidate outside the alliance of these two parties has managed to secure a win. Under the current circumstances, t though lost the power, the results are seen as a win for the leadership of EPS. With no Jayalalithaa, battling anti-incumbency, EPS held his own and put on a brave fight and in the process EPS has emerged out of the ashes as a natural leader.
While it was expected that AIADMK victory may not rattle the DMK leadership as M K Stalin will continue to head the Dravidian major, lot of knives will be out for EPS if AIADMK losses power. As expected the infighting has once again come to fore as the cadres of both EPS and OPS factions and the leaders themselves fight it out for the coveted post of the leader of opposition
Though EPS-OPS camps resolved their differences during elections, the loss of power has once again paved way for simmering differences. EPS who hails from the Kongu belt or the western region of the state, has done well, contrary to exit poll projections. The Kongu belt has won 32 seats out of 54 contested. In Coimbatore and Salem districts of the Kongu belt, AIADMK won nine out of ten seats and nine out of 11 seats, respectively. Out of all the seats, the performance of EPS was the most lauded as he won by a margin of 92,849 votes in Edappadi. He polled 1,60,931 votes against DMK candidate T Sambathkumar’s tally of 68,082 votes. But in South Tamil Nadu which is considered the stronghold of OPS, the party could muster only 16 of the 60 contested seats.
The victory of EPS could be read in contrast with the performance of OPS who won the Bodinayakanur seat by 12,154 votes. In south Tamil Nadu, the DMK’s tally increased from 26 seats which it had won in the 2016 Assembly election to 39 seats this year. Meanwhile, the AIADMK’s performance dipped from 32 seats in 2016, to just 19 this year.
The OPS faction is of the view that the last minute reservation announced by EPS for the Vanniyar community resulted in the defeat of several AIADMK candidates from other communities in many parts of Tamil Nadu and the outgoing Chief Minister has to be held responsible for that. They also pointed their fingers at EPS saying that urging the Centre to bring seven sub-sects of the DevendraKula Vellalar community under one group has backfired the party in the polls. In reply, EPS and his supporters have claimed that the party has won more seats in the Western Region due to their efforts and the loss was due to the ineffectiveness of functionaries in other regions managed by OPS.
Further, some leaders are of the view that had EPS was not harsh on TTV Dhinakaran and accommodated his AAMK in the alliance the results would have been different. In that case, may be AIADMK would have got another 10 or 15 seats extra. But then it would have benefitted AMMk more than AIADMK as TTV will start demanding and slowly Sasikala will try to rein control over the party.
Though it looks like the fight for the Leader of Opposition lead to another split in AIADMK, majority of the 66 MLAs stood by EPS. Supporters of EPS are of the opinion that it was EPS who bravely stood against the “Manargudi Mafia” and wrest AIADMK from the control of one family. They also doubt that OPS still nourishes some soft corner for Sasikala and co, hence may even join hands with them.
Finally, as the cards are stacked against OPS, the EPS has been elected as the Leader of Opposition on 10th May, after holding a three-hour marathon meeting with the newly elected legislators at the party headquarters in Chennai. Also, many thought that with a loss, the AIADMK would be finished. But despite loss of power for AIADMK, the results clearly show that it will be a strong opposition and is here to stay under EPS.