Mr Palaniswami had meticulously cultivated a support base for him in the party unlike Mr Panneerselvam who remains more a regional leader
The impasse at the general council of Tamil Nadu’s prime Opposition party, the AIADMK, on Thursday may, at its worst, lead to a split in the organisation but is unlikely to hamper its political activities. For, the core of the organisation is still intact under the wing of Edappadi K. Palaniswami, the Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly.
Vignettes at the stormy general council clearly indicated that the rank and file was not with rebel leader, O. Panneerselvam, who is technically, as coordinator, the head honcho of the party. But his bete noire, Mr Palaniswami, through his tactical moves, could not ease Mr Panneerselvam out of the top position that day since a Madras high court bench, which sat from midnight to the small hours ahead of the GC to hear a petition, prevented the moving of a resolution on what had come to be called the ‘single leadership’ formula.
‘Dual leadership’ came to haunt the party, which has a hoary tradition of being spearheaded by indisputable unitary colossal leaders like M.G. Ramachandran and J. Jayalalithaa, after a special arrangement had to be made in 2017 when the Panneerselvam faction merged with the then ruling AIADMK with Mr Palaniswami as the chief minister.
Since Mr Panneerselvam was first made a stopgap chief minister for six months from September 2001 to March 2002 and then for eight months in 2014-15 when Jayalalithaa had to step down following convictions in corruption cases, he had come to perceive himself to be a top rung leader though he did not have the necessary grassroots support.
Following the death of Ms Jayalalithaa in 2016, he was sworn in for the third time as CM when he came to believe that he was entitled to the job. But he had to step down to pave the way for V.K. Sasikala, who aspired to become chief minister, so much to his chagrin that he rebelled and lost another opportunity when Ms Sasikala was packed off to jail. It was then Mr Palaniswami who was chosen by Ms Sasikala for the job and he, too, came to believe that he was destined to lead.
So a power struggle started when Mr Panneerselvam was taken back into the party fold and given the deputy chief minister’s post and the coordinator position in the party in a compromise formula. Though they put up a show of unity as they wanted to keep Ms Sasikala, who was thrown out by Mr Palaniswami, at bay, after they lost power in 2019, the urge to wrest control of the party brought back the power struggle.
Mr Palaniswami had meticulously cultivated a support base for him in the party unlike Mr Panneerselvam who remains more a regional leader. The party that has seen several power struggles, starting with that of Ms Jayalalithaa after the death of M.G. Ramachandran in 1987, will overcome the present crisis, born out of a lopsided fight.