The blocks within the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) began to shift soon after the disastrous results of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The party led by TTV Dhinakaran lost its deposit in all 39 Parliamentary constituencies and worse, did not win a single assembly seat in 22 assembly bye-polls held along with the Lok Sabha elections.
Defeated but defensive, the party's General Secretary TTV Dhinakaran and other leaders maintained that 'faulty EVMs' were to blame for the loss. This has however done little to stop hundreds of unconvinced members from abandoning the AMMK to leave for the 'parent party' AIADMK.
And while the AMMK has so far dismissed the ongoing exodus as insignificant, the latest leader to join the queue to the exit line, has put them on the backfoot.
According to sources in both AIADMK and AMMK, disqualified MLA Thanga Tamilselvan who contested from the Theni parliamentary constituency is in talks with the ruling party to join them again.
"The dialogue with him began soon after the election results and interest was expressed on both sides," says an AIADMK source. "Last week, he met with two top ministers and then had a telephonic conversation with Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami," he adds.
Moreover, Thanga Tamilselvan's strong presence in Theni is seen as important by the faction supporting the Chief Minister.
"Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam currently holds sway in Theni. For the Chief Minister, Thanga Tamilselvan will be an additional asset and can help him assert his authority in the party," says an AIADMK source.
Top sources in the AMMK too confirmed that Thanga Tamilselvan was defecting to the AIADMK. After discussions in Theni, AMMK members from the district were called in for an emergency meeting at TTV Dhinakaran's residence on Tuesday to discuss contingency measures.
"We have already told our party members not to interact with Thanga Tamilselvan who has made his agenda clear. We will now look for a leader within the existing set up and replace him," adds the source close to TTV Dhinakaran. "We have been aware for quite sometime that he is in talks with the AIADMK and DMK," he adds.
While the two parties are certain of change, the only person in denial is Thanga Tamilselvan himself. The disqualified MLA has maintained that reports of his defection are false. But an audio recording of a phone conversation he held with an aide of TTV Dhinakaran, exposed his frustration with the party
And this was not the first time, that he has expressed displeasure with the AMMK since the party's defeat in May. As cadre, district secretaries and even contestants in recent elections scampered to desert the AMMK, senior leader P Vetrivel told TNM that it was only natural to see defections after a loss.
"These are people who did not work hard enough for the party. We would have pulled them up after the loss and questioned them and so they are leaving," he says. "We do not need such people in the party," he adds.
Thanga Tamilselvan, however, said that these defections required deeper introspection.
"If certain district secretaries go, then we need to sit and discuss it. We need to solve the problem. It is a huge worry that these people are going. They have been with us from the beginning," he said in an interview to Thanthi TV. "I have a lot of difference of opinion with party leadership," he admitted.
He further expressed his displeasure in AMMK's non-transparent decision making process.
"We should have contested in only the 22 assembly constituencies. But a decision was taken on Lok Sabha without consulting the others in the party," he alleged. " I still thought we will win 10 MP seats and 10 MLA seats because our party is strong. But without the two leaves symbol and as a non registered party, the AIADMK cadre did not accept us," he added.
Several leaders who have defected from the party including former MLA S Michael Rayappan and former AMMK Tirunelveli rural district secretary Popular Mutiah and echoed the same sentiment.
"We could see it on the ground when we were campaigning," says Michael, who contested in the Tirunelveli Lok Sabha seat. "People, including our cadre still see AIADMK as Amma'a party. They did not accept AMMK," he adds.
The former MLA further dismissed allegation made by Vetrivel.
"Why would I as a candidate not work hard to win a seat?" he asks. "When any party splits, the cadre get separated. But over time we can see which party has more of a pull on the people. When we joined AMMK we all believed that they will get the two leaves symbol and that the MLAs would be reinstated. But none of this happened. So, people don't want to be part of a sinking ship," he adds.
And with Thanga Tamilselvan now expected to join the AIADMK, Michael suspects he will take a huge number of followers with him.
According to reports, AIADMK's top ministers had been deputed to bring back cadre from AMMK post the recent elections. Talks are already underway with AMMK members in Madurai, Ramanathapuram and Tiruvannamalai.
But AMMK maintains that it will not be rattled.
"If people want to leave, we can't stop them," says a senior leader. "Every big party has seen defections. The party's structure will not be destroyed by just a few missing blocks."