On Friday night, after a marathon meeting which ran for more than 5 hours at former TN CM O Panneerselvamâ€™s residence in Greenways Road - the nerve centre of his political rebellion and campaign against Sasikala - six leaders of the OPS camp left to his other home at Venus Colony in Chennai.
Even as journalists and political watchers were stating that a merger between the two warring factions of the AIADMK was imminent, KP Munusamy, V Maithreyan, Manoj Pandian, Semmalai, Natham Vishwanathan and JCD Prabhakaran â€“ all belonging to the OPS camp â€“ arrived at Venus Colony to further discuss the possible merger. Also present were three other members from the Edappadi Palanisamy camp. Rajya Sabha MP R Vaithilingam, state ministers Velumani and Thangamani were the trusted lieutenants EPS had sent to represent him.
The OPS camp had three demands for the merger:
1. OPS should have signatory powers in the party, with the power to veto any decision. OPS also demanded to be the signing authority allotting party symbol to candidates.
2. A committee headed by OPS, with EPS, Vaithilingam and KP Munusamy as joint coordinators and 11 other members, will guide the party.
3. EPS and the MLAs supporting him should prepare a statement distancing themselves from VK Sasikala and promise to take necessary legal steps to remove her as the General Secretary. This step needed to be taken without taking the legal sanctity of removing her into concern.
But these demands were not arrived at by the OPS camp without internal debates and disagreements of their own. And TNM has learnt that these disagreements could be brewing discontent within the OPS camp.
The tumultuous meeting at OPS house
TNM has spoken to three leaders who were part of the first meeting in OPSâ€™s Greenways Road residence on Friday evening.
According to two of them, the tone for the meeting had been set by a phone conversation that OPS had with a 'thought leader' close to the RSS, someone who has been openly batting for a merger.
The leaders took turns to speak and put forward their thoughts on the terms of merger. Many leaders, including PH Pandian, Manoj Pandian, V Maithreyan and KP Munusamy, insisted that a merger with the EPS faction that still accommodated Sasikala would work against OPS and show him in bad light.
Things got heated up in the meeting when former minister Mafoi Pandiarajan made his speech. Mafoi spoke about how he had sacrificed his cabinet post to join OPS and that it was imperative for both sides to make concessions. This infuriated KP Munusamy, who said that there was no point talking about 'sacrifices'.
"OPS is definitely under pressure from several quarters. But we tried our best to impress on him that a compromise without certain conditions would be meaningless," a leader told TNM. But with OPS asking his colleagues to see the advantages of a merger, the meeting soon began discussing the terms.
"Many leaders were agitated by then. We did not include Mafoi's name in the committee and that lead to some more friction," another leader who was present at the meeting told TNM.
So, will the merger happen?
Yes, say all the three leaders TNM has spoken to.
One leader added that even if EPS faction disagreed to certain aspects of their conditions, or had some counter-conditions, OPS would still agree. For instance, EPS camp could ask for veto powers for themselves too. "Two senior BJP leaders, one RSS loyalist and one person amongst us has essentially finished the OPS rebellion," he said.
Though the merger will be announced soon, there is clear resentment in the OPS camp. "OPS and EPS should not prostrate before Delhi so much. Modi and Amit Shah won't get us votes, people will see through this," a third leader from the OPS camp told TNM.
But why is EPS keen on a merger? Would it not help him to continue status quo? "It is not that easy. There is the threat of raids and cases. But more than that, EPS feels isolated now. If the government falls soon, he doesn't want to be left in the lurch. Imagine if the DMK comes to power, he would have the state and Centre against him. By going for a merger, he is at least keeping the BJP happy," a leader close to EPS said.