Even if OPS manages to brave out this storm through some legal intervention, the leadership troubles may not end for him as the one thing that this entire episode has yet again exposed is the lack of support for him in the AIADMK.

AIADMK leader O Panneerselvam (OPS)PTI
news Politics Thursday, June 23, 2022 - 16:12

After many twists and turns within the AIADMK party in Tamil Nadu, today the leaders who once supported O Panneerselvam (OPS) are falling at Edappadi Palaniswamy’s (EPS) feet or greeting him with bouquets to announce their shift in loyalty. OPS’s political strength has weakened so much that it is very likely that he will lose the top position he currently holds in the AIADMK – that of party Coordinator.

OPS, who has served as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu thrice by virtue of being one of the trusted lieutenants of late former CM and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa, was a powerful threat to the EPS-led government in 2017. With the support of several leaders in the AIADMK and a favourable public perception that he managed to create after his rebellion against VK Sasikala, a close aide of Jayalalithaa, OPS was in a position where his actions could make or break the then AIADMK government. However, five years later, his position in the party is under threat from EPS.

OPS’s decline within the AIADMK has been gradual. When he agreed for a merger with EPS’s faction, he settled for the post of Deputy CM despite being chosen by Jayalalithaa herself as the CM twice when she was indisposed. However, he bargained hard and got himself the post of AIADMK Coordinator, whereas EPS was named the Joint Coordinator.

Even though technically OPS was number one in the AIADMK, EPS’s clout in the party grew significantly over the last few years and he was able to consolidate his position, both in the government and in the party owing to his political approach, caste equations, money power and government machinery at his disposal. Due to this, on several occasions, OPS found himself side-lined in the party and had very little say even in matters of governance.

What led to the diminishing support for OPS

Another main reason that many cite to explain the fall of OPS is his “selfish” nature. A leader who was once a staunch supporter of OPS after his “dharmayudham” against Sasikala said that OPS failed to stand by those who supported him during times of crisis. “OPS never did anything to take care of his supporters. He revolted twice in these five years, and on both occasions it was to save his position in the party. Similarly, see the efforts he has taken to secure a good political future for his sons… he never did the same for others who stood by him,” the leader told TNM on condition of anonymity.

There have been several instances that show how OPS left leaders who supported him during his time of rebellion high and dry. Former AIADMK Minister Rajenthra Bhalaji, an OPS supporter, was sacked from the district secretary post in March 2020 for making a controversial communal remark. The statement announcing disciplinary action against him was signed by both OPS and EPS. AIADMK party men from Virudhunagar, which is Bhalaji’s stronghold, claim that Bhalaji was shocked that OPS had authorised action against him. Since then, he decided to join hands with EPS. Similarly, another OPS supporter and former MP, Anwar Raja, was sacked from the party for speaking against the AIADMK’s alliance with the BJP, and even then OPS did not stand by him.

This lack of support from OPS made several leaders, who had backed him initially, drift towards EPS’s camp. Several of them were accommodated by EPS.

“OPS did not ensure that his close aides got good postings in the party. He didn’t bother to help the people who had supported him when he had the chance to do so,” senior journalist Lakshmanan explained.

Senior journalist Ramesh, however, said that OPS is not known to act on behalf of his supporters. “During the last election, if OPS had insisted on 30-40 seats for his supporters, he would have probably had more support now. To the best of my knowledge, from the inside information I got, OPS only asked for 3-4 seats for his supporters and EPS readily agreed,” Ramesh added.

Another reason that further isolated OPS in the AIADMK is the strategic soft corner he developed towards Sasikala despite rebelling against her in 2017. Owing to the caste factor, OPS realised that Sasikala’s support was important for the party to put up a good performance in parts of southern Tamil Nadu, from where he also hails. However, several leaders in the party, especially EPS, have been fiercely opposing Sasikala’s re-induction into the party, and several of OPS’s comments tacitly supporting Sasikala created a distrust against him. OPS and Sasikala are both from the Thevar community, while EPS is a Gounder leader.

One of the other important factors that led to OPS’s fall is the loss of his political credibility over time. Though at one point he was successful in cultivating a favourable public perception about him, especially during the time of his revolt against Sasikala, his image took a beating among the people due to his close ties with the BJP and several of his political flip-flops.

For example, OPS raised doubts about Jayalalithaa’s death and fuelled conspiracy theories against Sasikala when he wanted to capture the AIADMK from her. But later, while deposing before the Justice Arumughaswamy Commission of Inquiry, which was constituted on his insistence to probe the circumstances surrounding Jayalalithaa’s death, he did a massive U-turn and gave a clean chit to Sasikala.

Even if OPS manages to brave out this storm through some kind of legal intervention, the leadership troubles may not end for him as the one thing that this entire episode has yet again exposed is the lack of support for him in the party.

“I was a supporter of OPS and I was with him when he took on the most powerful family (Sasikala’s family) that was controlling the AIADMK at the time. But he simply failed to instil confidence among his supporters and partymen as a leader,” said a mid-level party functionary who switched to EPS’s side recently.

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