Lacking charismatic leaders
AIADMK unity may be restored, but it will be difficult to maintain
Can the two AIADMK factions reunite and continue to be relevant in Tamil Nadu? Almost seventy-five days after the split in the party, the AIADMK Amma (led by Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy) and the AIADMK Puratchi Thalaivi Amma (led by former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam who had revolted and split the party) have set up committees for merger talks. Even if the merger takes place after hard negotiations, can the party survive till the next elections?
This unity move came after both groups had realised that united they win and divided they sink. The EPS faction found that the Sasikala clan was becoming a liability. People were fed up after the income tax raids on the AIADMK minister Vijaya Bhaskar's house as well as the complaint that the Sasikala group was bribing the voters in the R.K. Nagar by-elections which have now been countermanded.
Their future is uncertain because Panneerselvam faction has asserted that the merger can take place only after the EPS faction dumps both the aunt and the nephew. Fearing that Dinakaran might stake a claim for his chair, EPS is only too glad to go along. Interestingly, neither Sasikala nor Dinakaran had put up any resistance about the ouster. Perhaps they treat this as a strategic retreat rather than political oblivion.
Tamil Nadu is going through a political churning after the death of the AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa in December. She is partly responsible for the present state of affairs as she had neither groomed nor named anyone as her successor. Her mentor MGR also did the same but Jayalalithaa who claimed his legacy was a charismatic leader.
Even though the party split after MGR's death in 1987 and his wife Janaki took over, the Jayalalithaa faction emerged victorious with 27 seats in the 1989 polls while Janaki won just two. Jaya had understood that to win the elections, she needed to mobilise the anti-DMK votes. Seeing the ground reality, Janaki left politics, and Jaya was able to unite the two factions.
In 2017, when the party split after the death of Jayalalithaa, the situation is entirely different. For one thing, there is no charismatic leader in the AIADMK in whose name the party can win the next elections, and Panneerselvam is not Jayalalithaa. Jaya's companion Sasikala's bid to take over the party had failed after the revolt of former Chief Minister Panneerselvam and the court verdict sending her to jail for four years.
Thirdly, the money is with Sasikala who is in a Bengaluru jail and her plan to rule the party from the prison through her nephew Dinakaran has failed. He had allegedly attempted to bribe the Election Commission officials to secure the AIADMK symbol of two leaves. With Jayalalithaa dead and the two leaves symbol frozen, the two factions know it will be difficult to survive.
The unity move came as an opportunity as well as a dilemma for both the factions. Though they may get cabinet berths, there is apprehension that the EPS group may swamp them. Also, OPS faction would like to have some clarity about the ouster of the Sasikala clan. After all, his revolt is against Sasikala. As for EPS, this was an opportunity to get out of the clutches of the Sasikala family.
Once the Sasikala issue is settled, comes the question of who would be the Chief Minister? Should the present Chief Minister EPS continue or the dethroned Chief Minister OPS gets back his chair? This is tricky and needs to be decided. The Assembly has a strong opposition led by the DMK, unlike the 1989 scenario where the opposition strength was negligible. Moreover, although the DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi is out of action, his son M.K. Stalin who is now the working president has been active in taking on the government.
There are other opposition leaders like Vaiko (MDMK), Ramadoss (PMK), and Vijayakant (DMDK) who can make noise.
Neither Panneerselvam nor Palaniswamy had proved their governance capabilities. For instance, a delegation of farmers had been camping in Delhi for almost 40 days seeking relief for their parched fields.
The Tamil Nadu government had done nothing to mitigate their sufferings. Panneerselvam did show some enterprise while he tried to contain the Jallikattu agitation in January but it was with the full support of the Centre. He did not show any initiative when he was the Chief Minister thrice before.
Neither OPS nor EPS can provide the kind of leadership needed to satisfy the party cadres who are used to MGR and Jayalalithaa. It will be difficult for the AIADMK to attract workers or voters with the aspirations of the young people changing.
Whoever is the Chief Minister, he has to be on the right side of the Centre given the fragility of the party. OPS is said to have a good relationship with Delhi and EPS is also trying to cultivate the BJP.
While the BJP claims that it has no role in the unification of the AIADMK, it is clear that the BJP would like to deal with a united AIADMK minus Sasikala clan. The BJP would like to have the support of the AIADMK in Rajya Sabha where the party is in the minority for legislative measures and also for the upcoming Presidential elections where the BJP led NDA needs about 25000 votes.
For both factions of AIADMK, the task of restoring unity at first and then to maintain it till the next elections is quite tough.
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