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AIADMK at crossroads: Duo EPS-OPS’ fate may be decided on July 11

THENI/CHENNAI: The Madras High Court will deliver a verdict at 9 am on July 11 that could shape the future of the AIADMK, one of the two major parties in the State. If the court permits the party’s 9.15 am general council (GC) meeting, it is almost certain Edappadi K Palaniswami will be made the party’s interim general secretary.

If the court rules otherwise, Palaniswami’s camp, which has the overwhelming support of GC members, may be headed for another round of legal battles.

As party cadre await the verdict with bated breath, Palaniswami’s camp seems confident the order will go their way. Even on July 10, his supporters were leaving no stone unturned to make the GC meeting “flawless”.

Palaniswami’s camp seems cautious as the June 23 meeting was described as a half-an-hour drama by the rival camp headed by O Panneerselvam, and there was a general notion that the earlier meeting was held in a hurry.

Since there was a charge that “outsiders” were in the GC meeting hall on June 23, this time, the AIADMK has installed a radio frequency identification system at the venue in Vanagaram, akin to the one at Metro Rail stations, so only genuine GC members can enter.

Since the 16-point agenda for the meeting has been conveyed to members of the GC well in advance, they are likely to be moved as resolutions in the meeting. Apart from this, steps to remove Panneerselvam as the party’s treasurer since he “failed” in his duties for the post are likely to be initiated.

Of the 16 subjects proposed to be discussed, five are related to the AIADMK’s leadership. Discussions will be held on abolishing the dual leadership posts coordinator and joint coordinator and reviving the post of the general secretary, who will be elected by the party’s primary members.

AIADMK cadre confident in Palaniswami’s leadership : His critics may complain he’s focused only on his family, but supporters of three-time chief minister O Panneerselvam (OPS) insist the Periyakulam native is loyal to the AIADMK and its 1.5 crore cadre.

On the eve of a general council meeting that could decide his political fate, they claimed his only mistakes have been naivete and complacency, that allowed Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) to seize control of the party.

Born to Ottakaradevar and Palaniammal on January 14, 1951, at Thenkarai in Periyakulam, OPS completed his schooling at Victoria Memorial Government Higher Secondary School, before earning a BA degree from Haji Karutha Rowther Howdia College in Uthamapalayam. He then looked after his father’s farms, before venturing into dairy farming with friend Vijayan.

“An ardent admirer of MGR, he enrolled himself into AIADMK and, after gaining the trust of party orator Cumbum Selvendran, became Periyakulam Urban MGR Youth Wing Secretary in 1982 at the age of 31,” his brother O Shanmuga Sundaram, 24th ward councillor in Periyakulam, said. “My brother is a loyal man. His loyalty was certified by Amma (J Jayalalithaa). She believed in my brother and appointed him interim CM twice,” he said.

Indeed, Panneerselvam was chosen interim CM by Jayalalithaa but on the advice of her aide VK Sasikala and clan. Panneerselvam was not always a Jaya loyalist. “After the death of MGR in 1987, we supported MGR’s wife Janaki. In 1991, the Janaki and Jayalalithaa factions united and, in 1993, he was appointed as Periyakulam Urban Party Secretary. Then he was elected Periyakulam Municipality Chairman,” recalled AIADMK district secretary and former Rajya Sabha member SPM Syed Khan.

He first met Jaya individually in 1998, Khan recalled, after Periyakulam MP Sedapatti Muthaiah was expelled for failing to vote against then Prime Minister AB Vajpayee during the confidence motion.
“At that time, she spoke to the office-bearers from Theni district. In the very first meeting, his humility struck Amma.

When TTV Dhinakaran contested for the Periyakulam Lok Sabha seat in 1999, OPS worked to ensure his victory. This brought him close to TTV. In 2000, he was appointed Theni District Secretary,” Khan said.

This proximity paid off in 2001. When Jaya was disqualified following the court verdict in the TANSI land case, she appointed OPS as interim CM. An unassuming Panneerselvam surprised everyone at Fort St George by taking queries from press in a composed manner, giving the impression he could make a better CM than expected. Yet, he remained an obedient soldier and did not act beyond his brief. When Jaya was convicted in the disproportionate assets case in 2014, OPS stood in as interim CM.

When Jaya died in December 2016, Panneerselvam, with his track record of ‘never going beyond his brief’, was again tapped to be CM. But this time, Sasikala moved fast to take the reins of the party and become CM herself. Asked to step down for Sasikala and her clan, Panneerselvam balked and launched a Dharma Yuddham after a 50-minute meditation at Jayalalithaa’s memorial.

Faced with his ‘betrayal’, Sasikala turned to Palaniswami, little knowing that the two men would eventually join hands to shut her out of the party. “Palaniswami, using his position as CM, looked after party functionaries well.

But, Panneerselvam’s flip-flops on Sasikala have shown him a weak leader. He launched Dharma Yuddham levelling charges against Sasikala. But recently while deposing before the Arumughasamy commission and, in general, he spoke in favour of her. This proved he is not steadfast,” senior journalist GC Sekhar told IWP.

“Perhaps because of complacency that the party and its office bearers would not desert him, Panneerselvam did nothing to assert his position in the party. At least, after becoming the coordinator of the party in 2017, he should have given confidence to his supporters.

Unfortunately, Panneerselvam could not ensure certain party posts to his key supporters even then. This earned him the image of one who will not stand by those who support him at the crucial hour,” a senior functionary told IWP.

Khan said OPS never worked on caste lines, despite belonging to the powerful Thevar community. “The Mukulathor community still supports Sasikala… Our main aim is to unite OPS and EPS. Otherwise, we will join Sasikala and TTV Dhinakaran. If so, many EPS supporters may come to us”.

However, in a sign of EPS’ influence in Panneerselvam’s home turf, AIADMK former MP R Parthiban said, “Office bearers are moving for ‘unitary leadership’ which they find in EPS. I agreed. EPS never criticised OPS. We tried to unite them but now former Cumbum MLA Subburayor, former Bodinayakanur MLA Ramarajan and I extended our support to EPS”.

Rs 1.5 crore cadre elected OPS, 2.6K can’t oust him : The present situation within the AIADMK will also be discussed, and a decision taken on creating an ‘interim general secretary’ post and electing a functionary to it. The main dais only has portraits of former party leaders MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa, and none of Palaniswami and Panneerselvam. But across Chennai and in other places too, there are posters on walls hailing Palaniswami as the only leader of the AIADMK’s 1.5 crore cadre.

There are hardly any such portraits of Panneerselvam. Perhaps for the first time, the Madras High Court is pronouncing a verdict just 15 minutes ahead of the meeting, the conduct of which is a bone of contention.

The Supreme Court has already clarified that courts cannot interfere in internal affairs of political parties. It remains to be seen whether the single judge of the high court will stick to this line of reasoning.

Meanwhile, speaking to reporters at Panneerselvam’s residence, R Vaithilingam asserted: “Panneerselvam has been elected by 1.5 crore primary members of the party.

As such, around 2,600 GC members cannot remove him from that post. All party cadre stand with Panneerselvam. After meeting Panneerselvam, SPM Syed Khan, the AIADMK’s Theni district secretary reiterated his support for the leader.

He said the Palaniswami camp has been intimidating GC members, saying those who don’t favour him would be removed from the party. Of the 61 GC members in Theni district, only nine support Palaniswami.

Asked whether Panneerselvam’s supporters would take part in Monday’s GC meeting, Khan said, “We will abide by what Panneerselvam says.” On the proposal to remove the posts of coordinator and joint coordinator at the meeting, Khan said, “Both have been elected for five years, and hence,

Panneerselvam will continue as coordinator. Removal of these posts will be possible only when both agree on it. A unilateral decision can’t be taken, and the party bylaws don’t allow it.

The main dais only has portraits of former party leaders MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa, and none of Palaniswami and Panneerselvam. But across Chennai, there are posters on walls hailing Palaniswami as the only leader of the AIADMK’s 1.5 crore cadre.

A Timeline of AIADMK’s Jurney

October 17, 1972 – MG Ramachandran launches ADMK as a breakaway group of the DMK

1973 – The AIADMK registers its electoral victory in the by-election to the Dindigul Lok Sabha seat

1977 – AIADMK captures power and MGR is sworn in as chief minister on June 30.

1988 January: AIADMK splits into two factions — one led by Janaki Ramachandran, wife of MGR, and another by J Jayalalithaa

1989: Both factions merge

1991: AIADMK captures power and J Jayalalithaa becomes CM

September 2001: Jayalalithaa steps down as she was awarded five years imprisonment in the TANSI land case and OPS assumes office as CM for the first time. In March 2002, Jayalalithaa returns as CM

2011: AIADMK comes to power

2014: Jayalalithaa gets convicted in a disproportionate assets case and OPS becomes CM for a second time. In 2015, Jayalalithaa returns as CM

2016: AIADMK gets a mandate for a second consecutive term

December 29, 2016: VK Sasikala becomes interim general secretary of the AIADMK and she takes charge on December 31

February 5, 2017: OPS submits his resignation, citing personal reasons

February 7: OPS launches Dharma Yuddham against Sasikala. A new faction of the AIADMK led by OPS emerges

February 9: Sasikala stakes claim to form government but Governor delays invitation to Sasikala

February 14: SC awards four years imprisonment to Sasikala in a disproportionate assets case; AIADMK legislature party elects EPS as its leader as desired by Sasikala

February 15: TTV Dhinakaran, Sasikala’s nephew, appointed AIADMK deputy general secretary

September 12: GC meeting of the unified AIADMK cancels appointment of Sasikala as general secretary and appointment of TTV as deputy general secretary. OPS to be chief coordinator and EPS to be assistant chief co-ordinator. Jayalalithaa will be the ‘eternal’ general secretary

August 21: Factions led by OPS and EPS merge

April 18: EPS, his Cabinet colleagues, and other office-bearers decide to keep TTV Dhinakaran and his family members away from the affairs of the AIADMK and the government

December 2, 2021: AIADMK bylaws amended to elect the coordinators by a single vote and both of them got elected to the post on December 6

June 14, 2022: Single leadership issue heats up in the office-bearers’ meeting.

June 23: GC meeting rejects all 23 resolutions approved by OPS

In the 1980s, EPS was a small-time functionary in the party. After completing his UG in Erode, he took up the job of a commission agent, collecting jaggery from farmers in Edappadi and taking it to the Perundurai market. After selling jaggery, he took a commission and returned the remaining money to farmers.

Panneerselvam was born on January 14, 1951, at Thenkarai in Periyakulam. After his UG in economics at Haji Karutha Rowther Howdia College in Uthamapalayam, he started looking after his father’s farm land before starting a dairy with his friend Vijayan. He also ran a tea shop on his own land in Cumbum.