It was close to 12.30pm on Friday when the announcement was made. AIADMK's Deputy General Secretary TTV Dhinakaran came out with a statement declaring that the Amma faction will support the NDA's Presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind. Ideally, this would have been seen as a massive benefit for the BJP and the reasons thoroughly analysed. Except, Dhinakaran was two days too late.
Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami on Wednesday, had made it clear that the ruling faction of the party will be lending its support to the former Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind. Now, in light of Dhinakaran's stand on the matter, the power struggle within the AIADMK that threatens to split the party into three, is in focus like never before.
In his statement, Dhinakaran was clearly attempting to highlight who takes the crucial decisions for the AIADMK. "As per the orders of AIADMK (Amma) General Secretary VK Sasikala, I announce with joy that MPs from the Amma faction, besides MLAs in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, and alliance party MLAs will vote for Ram Nath Kovind, who is contesting the Presidential polls on behalf of BJP," he said.
If his aim was to appropriate Sasikala's name, it was in vain. Just hours before his announcement, Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker Thambidurai had already proclaimed that the Chief Minister's decision came after consultation with the General Secretary.
Even former Chief Minister O Panneerselvamâ€™s faction has announced its support to the NDA candidate, albeit a day after EPS laid out his cards. On Thursday, the OPS camp claimed that its final decision following a phone call from BJP President Amit Shah regarding its stand on the Presidential elections. On Friday, both the former and current Chief Minister landed in New Delhi to personally meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and express their willingness to vote for his candidate.
What months of 'merger talks' couldn't do, a phone call from the BJP could - the factions had finally agreed upon something.
The power dynamics
"This just goes to show, that it is finally the BJP that is calling the shots," says political analyst Gnani Sankaran. "All three of the factions want to woo the BJP and in turn are being controlled by the national party," he adds.
According to the political analyst, for Dhinakaran this is a calculated move, to establish the notion that Sasikala still runs the party.
"He was in jail for close to 38 days despite the fact that the official he was allegedly attempting to bribe could not be identified. There was speculation that the BJP was behind his imprisonment. So why would he support them?" asked RK Radhakrishnan, Associate Editor of Frontline. "This is because he cannot afford to do anything that will further destablise the government or lead to its fall," he adds.
For the OPS and EPS faction, meanwhile, it is believed that fear propels this extensive gushing and support of the NDA government. "The Income Tax department, Enforcement Directorate and CBI all seem to have made Tamil Nadu its headquarters," Radhakrishnan notes wryly. "They could cause great grief for all these three factions because corruption is endemic here and they are all fall under the Centre's purview," he adds.
The AIADMK (Amma), meanwhile is trying to hide the deepening cracks within the party. "TTV runs the party while the Chief Minster runs the government," says AIADMK spokesperson Saraswathi. "MLAs always wait for the party chief's instructions, so this is merely part of the procedure," she claims.
When asked if this unity in supporting the NDA candidate would pave a new path for the merger, she says, "That is what the cadres of the party desire. We want the party to be united as one."
Experts, however opine, "If that is what the BJP wants, it will happen."
The caste factor
At the ground level, however, the caste factor that has always subtly determined political decisions, has now taken control of the power dynamics in the state.
Edappadi Palaniswamiâ€™s election as the legislature party leader and appointment as Chief Minister was seen as an increasing consolidation of the Gounder community, which has 28 MLAs in the party.
Despite being numerically more powerful, they were forced to watch key posts being given to the Thevar community. Both Sasikala and former CM O Panneerselvam had belonged to the latter caste.
"Now the EPS faction has Gounders who finally feel like their community is being represented in a top post and OPS faction has Thevars who are unhappy about this," explains Radhakrishnan.
Then what about the MLAs who support TTV?
"These too are Thevar MLAs who are fanatic followers of Sasikala. Except that they don't want to hurt the government, in their zeal to be represented at top posts," say the senior journalist. "After all the only thing that unites them is their unwillingness to fight another election before their term ends," he adds.