AIADMK impasse: Divided they stand

The two AIADMK groups are confused, being faced with conflicting pulls and pressures

The decision of the ruling faction of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK (Amma), to distance itself from members of the V.K. Sasikala family comes at a time when there is an unmistakable and growing public resentment against them. This has been compounded by what is allegedly Ms. Sasikala’s nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran’s latest folly — a brazen attempt to bribe Election Commission officials to secure the election symbol of Two Leaves; the AIADMK’s deputy general secretary and other family members were becoming a political liability. At the same time, with the EC freezing the symbol, a section of the AIADMK (Amma) leadership saw a reunification with the splinter formation headed by former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam as essential to long-term survival. The choice seemed one between swimming together or sinking separately. Interestingly, neither Ms. Sasikala nor Mr. Dhinakaran seems to be putting up any stiff resistance to the ouster. Also, many in the group perceived to be close to the Sasikala family went along with the decision without a whimper. Given this, there is suspicion that the ‘ouster’, forced by circumstances and carried out in the larger interest, was not entirely bereft of a little stage management.

Ms. Sasikala and Mr. Dhinakaran may well regard what transpired as a strategic retreat rather than an irrevocable order to political exile. Both are aware they have at least a handful of diehard loyalists within the ruling camp — possibly enough to threaten the Edappadi K. Palaniswami government’s narrow majority in the Assembly. Many ministers remain beholden to the family and may well find it difficult to antagonise their one-time benefactors. It will be no surprise if both strive to retain their political influence, even while appearing reconciled to being sidelined. The party’s television channels, its publications, and resources remain in the control of the Sasikala clan. A shared desire for political stability, reflected in the fact that no MLA would want an immediate election, could ward off a total rupture in the ranks. Indeed, if such stability is to be reinforced and is to sustain in the longer run, a patch-up with the rival AIADMK faction is the only viable course. However, for the Panneerselvam faction, merging with the AIADMK (Amma) presents both an opportunity and a cause for dilemma. While they may get to rejoin the government, the worry lies in the risk of being swamped by the rival group. Also, given that the Panneerselvam faction was formed on the basis of opposition towards the Sasikala family, it would be suicidal to merge with the AIADMK (Amma) in the absence of clarity about the real nature of the ouster. The moves and counter-moves currently afoot reflect conflicting pulls and pressures — the basic dilemma here being the conflict between reflecting the public mood and remaining together for the sake for political power.

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