The stumbling blocks are many. Contrary to its assertion in April that the Mannargudi family will be kept away from affairs of the party, the EPS camp has now furnished affidavits to the Election Commission stating VK Sasikala and TTV Dinakaran as the top two in the AIADMK. Ousting them from the party was the first condition OPS had put for merger talks. All that the ruling AIADMK did was to remove Sasikala's posters from the party office in Chennai. 

What's more, party organ `Namadhu MGR' published an article last week that said that Sasikala and Dinakaran will be supported by the people and the party cadre. This Monday, the publication further added fuel to the fire with visual evidence that the umbilical cord with the Sasikala clan has not been snapped. Reporting on the 16th-day death ceremony of Sasikala's nephew, TV Mahadevan who died last month, it published a photograph that prominently showed three ministers with Sasikala's brother Dhivakaran and husband Natarajan. 

Team Palaniswami also has not shown any inclination in ordering a CBI probe into circumstances leading to Jayalalithaa's death, arguing it is sub-judice. It knows Panneerselvam's aim is to hit at Sasikala through the probe. But her hold over the party MLAs cannot be underestimated, and EPS will be playing with fire if he does anything that lands her in the dock. 

The third roadblock is the one the OPS camp is not mentioning directly. It is insistent that Panneerselvam has to be made CM since Palaniswami is seen as a Sasikala appointee. 

Team OPS has reportedly requested the BJP to convince Palaniswami to make way. The BJP's role of an umpire in the AIADMK crisis is the worst-kept secret in Tamil Nadu though officially the party denies playing any role in the internal matters of the party factions. DMK working president MK Stalin has already accused the BJP of using central agencies to make the AIADMK camps dance to its tunes.

But the BJP, sources say, is not willing to play ball the way OPS wants it to. It realises that replacing Gounder community's Palaniswami with Thevar caste Panneerselvam may create a new set of problems, especially if this narrative of BJP wielding the remote control gains ground. Moreover, the party recognises that it has traction in western Tamil Nadu, where the Gounders have numerical clout. 

Everything then boils down to who blinks first on the CM's chair. The Panneerselvam camp is also reportedly eyeing plum portfolios of Finance and Revenue, but it is unlikely that EPS will be willing to be so generous. 

The Palaniswami camp is not willing to give up the post of the general secretary too, without putting up a fight. Sources say Dhivakaran, who does not get along with Dinakaran, would like a family member to be the general secretary. Even otherwise, the party constitution mandates that the rank and file elect the general secretary and the argument is that it cannot be given to OPS on a platter. 

With both factions refusing to budge, the two sides are not even talking officially. The BJP would ideally like an AIADMK government with both camps in it, minus the Sasikala clan to run Tamil Nadu. But that is easier said than done with neither side in a mood to give and take. 

Those aware of the party dynamics and the trust deficit also say Panneerselvam camp all along preferred to go in for a snap poll to tap the goodwill on the ground for OPS instead of a merger. It also believed that if it played hardball, the EPS camp will collapse. But for the second time, their assessment has proven wrong. Just like the 122 MLAs stuck together at the Koovathur Golden Bay resort in February, this time too, there have not been any desertions. At least, not yet.

The only headache for EPS is former minister Senthil Balaji who has raised the banner of revolt against his leadership, though obliquely. The two do not get along and Balaji, a strongman from Karur district, knows so long as Palaniswami is CM, he will never become a minister. This politics of wheels within wheels only makes the situation more complicated. 

Then there are at least eight MLAs who are openly Dinakaran supporters and are not too enthusiastic about a merger that will force them to work under Panneerselvam's leadership. To the family and its support base within the AIADMK, OPS is anathema. 

As far as Panneerselvam is concerned, his camp has conveyed to Delhi that 60-odd MLAs are in touch with him and are pro-merger. And that it is only a matter of time before things get sorted out. 

But the affidavits submitted to the EC, it would seem, have been the last straw on the camel's back. That has played its part in OPS deciding to hit the road from 5 May and meet the cadre to garner people's support instead of waiting for protracted negotiations bearing fruit. EPS on his part, has been meeting district secretaries to send out the message that he too is not short on support. 

The opposition DMK realises that while EPS has the numerical superiority, OPS will be the man to watch. By suggesting that Panneerselvam is BJP's man in Tamil Nadu, Stalin's intention seems to be to ensure that the minorities, who form a significant 12% chunk in the state, take note of the OPS-BJP connection.