In the OPS vs EPS battle for one-upmanship, who will have the last laugh?

opinion | Friday, October 13th, 2017
TS Sudhir

Scratch the "All is well'' narrative dished out for public consumption and you will realise all is not well in the AIADMK post-merger. And one of the reasons for the discomfiture is a kissa kursi ka.

In AIADMK circles, it is now an open secret that supporters of deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam were not pleased that their leader did not get a chair on the dais when the new Governor of Tamil Nadu Banwarilal Purohit took oath of office last week. OPS had to sit along with the other ministers during the ceremony while chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami was on the dais. Given that OPS has been CM thrice before, his campers resent that EPS now has the upper hand. 

It is in this context that OPS met the Prime minister. Though he claimed that he met the PM only to ask for more coal allotment for the thermal power projects in Tamil Nadu, it was obvious power game of a different kind was on the agenda. 

Because if indeed coal allotment was on the agenda, as the memorandum submitted to Modi suggested, OPS ought to have taken a representative of the Tamil Nadu government with him and not Rajya Sabha MP V Maitreyan. Tamil Nadu electricity minister P Thangamani who was present in New Delhi, could have been asked to come along. The fact of the matter is that Maitreyan by virtue of having been in the BJP before, has been Panneerselvam's political link to New Delhi all through 2017. 

Those privy to what transpired at the meeting say while overtly politics was not discussed, it was conveyed to the PM that the OPS camp is not getting the respect it was promised before the merger took place in August. But those in the know of the ground situation in Tamil Nadu know that it is not about respect, the reasons are very political. 

While the jury is out on how well the EPS regime is governing, the spread of dengue being one negative indicator, the CM is consolidating himself politically. EPS spends as much time in Chennai as he does in his backyard of western Tamil Nadu. Last week, he laid the foundation stone for a slew of projects - from schools and colleges to veterinary hospital, ration shop and primary health centres in the region. The CM is just about everywhere, going hyperlocal with a welfare agenda, even inaugurating a new bus service in Salem district. That is because Palaniswami knows his politics. This is the belt where AIADMK did exceedingly well, winning 45 of the 57 assembly seats in 2016. Palaniswami's gameplan is to ensure that this region stays by his side and gives him bargaining clout if political tremors rock the AIADMK once again. 

In contrast, southern Tamil Nadu let down Jayalalithaa last year and OPS has not been able to make himself dominant in his patch to the same extent as EPS. Also unlike the Gounder community that is backing Palaniswami completely, the Thevar community is divided between OPS and TTV Dinakaran. 

Panneerselvam's intention behind meeting Modi was to convey ``Engete PM irikanga'' (Mere paas PM hai). The optics were to make EPS uncomfortable and keep him on tenterhooks though for the record, he maintained that there is no problem between him and the CM. The meeting does not mean that the PM has taken upon himself the role of the AIADMK High command but both sides are sparing no effort to impress the BJP.

EPS is doing so by changing colours. Tamil Nadu government's new banners for a campaign against dengue have a saffron base, a sharp contrast to the traditional green colour of the AIADMK, a favorite with Jayalalithaa. This is being interpreted as an attempt by Palaniswami to cosy up to the BJP. Fisheries minister D Jayakumar however, sees red at the criticism, insisting the colour is more red than saffron. 

EPS so far, has proved himself to be a politician with staying power and an ability to sense which way the wind is blowing. He wasted little time in dumping Sasikala, who made him CM in February, and patched up with OPS once he realised that is what Delhi desires. But since then, he has been his own man, unperturbed by the fact that he is running a minority government. Displaying political craft, Edappadi Palaniswami is proving to be the PV Narasimha Rao of Tamil Nadu politics, who is quietly moving the pieces on the chess board without anyone realising he is playing the game. 

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