The freezing of the two leaves symbol will become a distinct possibility if the two factions of AIADMK stake a claim to the symbol.

A stylised image of OPS, Annamalai and EPS
news Politics Monday, January 23, 2023 - 15:57

The Tamil Nadu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters ‘Kamalayalam’ located at Chennai’s Vaidyaraman street witnessed unusual scenes on Saturday, January 21. The two All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) factions led by Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) and O Panneerselvam (OPS) were seen competing to seek BJP’s support for the upcoming Erode East Assembly bye-election scheduled on February 27, 2023. Ex-Chief Minister and expelled AIADMK coordinator OPS and senior leaders of the EPS faction, KP Munusamy, D Jayakumar, Sengottaiyan and others visited BJP’s headquarters to hold talks with Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai.

This was in stark contrast with what happened in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led (DMK) alliance. The DMK decided to allocate the seat to Congress after national party leaders visited DMK headquarters and held talks. Shortly after the meeting, DMK announced that the Erode East assembly constituency was once again being allocated to Congress. 

Speaking to TNM, senior journalist and political analyst Loganathan said that this move by both factions of the AIADMK has exposed their weakness and subservient attitude towards the BJP. “The AIADMK party workers will not like this, AIADMK is the largest party in the alliance,” Loganathan added.

The ongoing leadership tussle between EPS and OPS has driven both factions to BJP, resulting in massive confusion in the party. The freezing of the two leaves symbol will become a distinct possibility if the two factions stake a claim to the symbol. According to the Election Commission of India, OPS is the coordinator and EPS is the joint coordinator of the party. Both leaders must sign the papers to authorise a candidate and allot the two leaves symbol. 

Both factions trying to field candidates

The bye-election for Erode East constituency which falls under the Kongu region was necessitated due to the sudden demise of sitting Congress MLA Thirumaran Everaa, son of Congress leader EVKS Elangovan. This came as an opportunity for EPS, who is the former Chief Minister and AIADMK’s interim general secretary, to assert himself as the undisputed leader of the party. He made the first move to convince his ally, Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) led by GK Vasan, to give up the seat for AIADMK. In the 2021 Assembly elections, the Erode East seat was allocated to TMC and the party lost the seat by a margin of more than 8,000 votes to Congress.

Even before OPS could make his move, the EPS faction convinced GK Vasan to give up the seat for AIADMK to contest the bye-poll and communicated to BJP about their plans. Speaking to TNM, an AIADMK leader said, the bye-election in the Kongu region would help EPS rejuvenate his party workers. “The election is happening in the Kongu Belt and EPS has a considerable amount of influence in the region. He is using this opportunity to prove his leadership skills,” the leader said.

As EPS races ahead with his electoral plans, OPS too, has announced that his faction will also contest the bye-poll from Erode East constituency. OPS went one step further to woo the BJP by offering to back off from the contest if the national party is willing to field its candidate.

The dilemma for the BJP

With both AIADMK factions deciding to contest the bye-poll to assert themselves as undisputed leaders of the AIADMK, the fight for AIADMK’s leadership has now taken an electoral turn. The BJP which has been focusing on building its base in the Kongu region is now in a dilemma. Sources say that the Tamil Nadu leadership of the BJP is in favour of contesting the bye-poll, but the national leadership is not keen as they don’t want to upset AIADMK’s plans. Speaking to TNM, a senior BJP leader said, “We are working on permutations and combinations and looking at the numbers to see where we stand. If we contest, we are sure that we will get a sizable number of votes. A decision will be announced in a day or two by the high command,” the leader said.

Like EPS, the bye-poll is an opportunity on many fronts for Annamalai too. He is keen on proving his leadership skills. On the political front, the BJP’s desire to contest the bye-poll can purely be based on its arch-rival Congress’s decision to contest from the same seat. The other reason is ideological as it allows the BJP to take on EVKS Elangovan, the Congress candidate on an electoral battleground. EVKS Elangovan is the grandson of social reformer Periyar.

As a ruling alliance, the DMK-led combine has an upper hand and the arithmetic too, favours them, but the BJP wants to test the waters ahead of the 2024 general elections. According to 2021 statistics, the Erode East constituency has a total of 2.26 lakh voters and has a sizable chunk of Gounder, Naidu and Mudaliar community votes which both the AIADMK and the BJP want to target. The BJP is also keen on galvanising support from the large number of North Indian voters in the constituency, which amounts to more than 16,000 votes. There are more than 20% of minority votes in the constituency which will help the DMK-led alliance. The BJP is now in a fix as they don’t want to be seen as taking sides between EPS or OPS factions or go against the AIADMK which is very much part of the BJP's 2024 strategy.

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