by TS Sudhir | 04:20 PM June 13, 2017

Four factions in one: With no real party, the AIADMK is nearly dead

4 factions in one: With no real party, AIADMK is nearly dead

During Jayalalithaa's reign, her party spokesperson CR Saraswathi, who is also an actor, would brag about how the AIADMK is a "military party". "There is one commander, and her word is law," she would say with a flourish.

Six months after she passed away, that AIADMK is also dead. Or to continue with the military metaphor, the AIADMK has been taken over by smaller warlords, all of them incidentally owing allegiance to the same Delhi Sultanate. In terms of political stature, all of them are pygmies and not a patch on the likes of MGR and Jayalalithaa - who had led the party in the past. 

The fight is now out in the open to gain control of the AIADMK. The last I checked, there were at least four AIADMKs. There is the O Panneerselvam faction that broke away, after a half hour meditation session at the Amma Memorial in February. 

The official group that controls the government is headed by Edappadi Palaniswami. But EPS has to look out for the rebels in his own house, as 31 of the 122 MLAs who officially support him actually owe allegiance to TTV Dhinakaran and his aunt VK Sasikala, who is in Bengaluru jail. 

And the fourth person trying to claim the Jayalalithaa legacy is Deepa Jayakumar, who is fighting both for personal and political relevance. Her husband had floated his own rump - but it is merely a letterhead outfit for the moment. 

For the past two months, efforts were being made to merge the AIADMKs. On paper, Deepa was on OPS side while EPS and Dhinakaran were deemed to be together. Not anymore. With everyone wanting a slice of the power pie, a reconciliation was never going to be easy, despite prodding from Delhi. Panneerselvam has now dissolved the committee set to mediate for a merger.

The view within the Panneerselvam camp always was that the EPS camp will be a liability. The impression one got was that despite having only 12 MLAs on its side, it wanted to project itself as a good boys club as opposed to the brute majority on the other side that was siding with 'adharma'. The OPS group reasoned that if a merger took place, Panneerselvam's assiduously cultivated clean image would be sullied by the company he will then keep. 

This holier than thou image that OPS projected did not amuse the EPS faction one bit. Palaniswami's reluctance to give up the CM's chair and refusal to treat Sasikala as persona non grata also made the merger process a non-starter. 

What does this mean for the future of the AIADMK? Unlike OPS, EPS is not looking at 2021. He is only looking to survive till 2021. The CM won't shed tears over the merger process being called off. 

His backers had successfully made it into a caste issue, making it clear that a Gounder EPS cannot be expected to make way for a Thevar OPS. Given that the Kongu belt had played a decisive role in AIADMK's victory last year, it is a political risk not worth taking. 

But surviving till 2021 also won't be easy for EPS. He has no option but to do business with Dhinakaran if he has to stay in power. However, that exposes him and his group to the knock on the door by Income Tax sleuths who are probing the cash-for-votes that were given out during the RK Nagar byelection. 

It is a catch-22 situation given that he has to ensure the government does not fall because none of the AIADMK legislators want an election within a year of getting elected. 

Panneerselvam, in contrast, would like to believe that this is an ideal situation. His gameplan is that with the AIADMK cadre that will come with him and BJP's support, he has a reasonable chance of winning a snap poll, with the vote splitting three ways. 

But that would be easier said than done. 

The first problem is that it would be a mistake to underestimate the ruling AIADMK. Despite the sword of a bribery case, Dhinakaran has managed to get significant support within the party, both among MLAs and district secretaries.

The second problem is that all the leaders with OPS, in the words of his own camp MLA Saravanan, are those who were discarded by Jayalalithaa. Saravanan made this scathing observation during a sting camera operation on Times Now and Moon TV, proof that even OPS campers do not believe that he was Jayalalithaa's chosen one. 

Three, the perception has gained ground that Panneerselvam's strings are pulled by the BJP. That may make OPS a political untouchable for the minorities and if they gravitate en masse towards the DMK, it will be a lose-lose situation for Panneerselvam. 

But with the sting operation proving the worst-kept secret in Tamil Nadu that money was indeed paid to MLAs before the trust vote on 18 February, the legitimacy of the EPS government is now under the scanner. 

Most believe that the BJP is now focused on getting the entire AIADMK lot to vote for its candidate in the Presidential election. The political action will start in Chennai only after the new occupant of Rashtrapati Bhavan is decided. 

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