AIADMK turmoil: Prominent leaders who switched from OPS to EPS camp

10 MLAs who supported OPS and voted against Edappadi K Palaniswami during the vote of confidence motion in the Assembly in 2017 have also changed their loyalties. Some others have become 'neutral'.
Edappadi K Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam
Edappadi K Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam
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It’s a repeat of 2017 in the opposition AIADMK party in Tamil Nadu. Back then, the party saw much drama as it suddenly became ‘leaderless’ in the wake of former Chief Minister and AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa’s death, and the imprisonment of her close friend Sasikala who had become the de-facto leader of the party. Now that the party is no longer in power, and a general council election to the party is in the offing, there is drama once again over who will be the most powerful leader in AIADMK. There is a demand for single leadership in the AIADMK, from former Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) and his supporters; the other power centre in the AIADMK, O Panneerselvam (OPS), wants status quo in the form of dual leadership. He seems to be losing support however as a group of his supporters including several former ministers, district secretaries, headquarters functionaries, and members of the general council have shifted their loyalties to Edappadi K Palaniswami. Here is the list of prominent leaders who helped have jumped ship from the OPS to EPS camp:

KP Munusamy: One of the fiercest opponents of VK Sasikala and her family, KP Munusamy was in the OPS camp when the two factions split in 2017. During the merger between OPS and EPS, he got a deputy coordinator post, but slowly switched sides to the EPS camp. He is now an MLA from Krishnagiri constituency, and still in support of EPS, according to party sources.

Natham R Vishwanathan: This former minister was sidelined in the party by VK Sasikala when she was the de facto chief of AIADMK following Jayalalithaa’s death. He joined the OPS camp during the revolt against Sasikala. After the merger however, he jumped ship to the EPS camp, got a seat to contest from the Natham constituency, and is an MLA now.

Mafoi Pandiarajan: In 2017 during the OPS-EPS war, Mafoi Pandiarajan was the lone sitting Cabinet Minister to jump ship from the EPS to OPS camp. After the merger between OPS and EPS, he was re-inducted into the Tamil Nadu Cabinet. Later, he shifted to the EPS camp, contested from Avadi constituency during the 2021 Assembly elections, and lost. He announced that he would take a break from politics. On Tuesday, June 21, he prostrated himself at EPS's feet and extended his support to him.

Semmalai: He was a senior leader in the AIADMK and was sidelined in the party by Sasikala's camp. Semmalai then backed OPS during the latter’s ‘dharmayudham’. He is senior to EPS in the party and is also from the Salem region. Despite being a senior, he has now accepted EPS’s leadership and joined hands with him. 

Ponnaiyan: One of the most senior leaders of the AIADMK, the former Finance Minister in Jayalalaithaa’s Cabinet (2001-2006) supported OPS during the ‘dharmayudham’; and like many others, he shifted his loyalties to the EPS camp after the merger.

Dr V Maitreyan: During OPS’s ‘dharmayudham’, this senior AIADMK leader played a crucial role in galvanising support for OPS. He was OPS’s Delhi contact and a troubleshooter. However, after the merger between OPS and EPS, he was sidelined and was denied a ticket to the Rajya Sabha. On and off, he met OPS. But on June 22, he met EPS at his residence and has extended his support.

Other than these leaders, 10 MLAs who earlier supported OPS and voted against EPS during the vote of confidence motion in the Tamil Nadu Assembly in 2017, have also changed their loyalties. Some of them have decided to stay neutral. Former Mettupalayam MLA Chinnaraj, former Mylapore MLA R Nataraj, and former Madurai South MLA Saravanan have also not been supporting OPS for a while now.

Changes in districts level support

Several groups in the party in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu have also shifted their support to EPS. Southern districts were once considered the fortress of OPS. On Tuesday (June 21), Tirunelveli functionaries including all the 52 general committee members and nine executive committee members, shifted their loyalties to the EPS camp. Tirunelveli district secretary Thachai Ganesharaja, Virudhunagar district secretary Sathur Ravichandran, and Tiruvallur south district secretary Alexander also shifted their camp to EPS. Now, among the 75 district secretaries, 66 members are with EPS. OPS has the support of just nine district secretaries, including former minister Vellamandi Natarajan of Trichy and Sayed Khan of Theni.

The core members who are still supporting OPS

Manoj Pandian: Son of senior AIADMK leader PH Pandian, Manoj has been supporting OPS from day 1 of his dharmayudham, and is still loyal to the leader. He is a sitting MLA of the Alangulam constituency.

Vaithilingam: He was a supporter of VK Sasikala; but after the merger between the two factions, he joined hands with OPS. The sitting MLA of Orathanadu constituency, he is a part of OPS’s core team.

What ails the OPS camp

Now and then, OPS has talked about inducting Sasikala back into the party, and OPS's brother OP Raja was seen with Sasikala; eventually, it led to his dismissal from the party. OPS has a soft corner for and has even praised MK Stalin's governance. What sparked fire in the party was OPS's son and AIADMK's only Lok Sabha MP OP Raveendranath meeting Chief Minister MK Stalin last month.

The history

Between 1989 and 2016, Jayalalithaa was the sole leader of the AIADMK, and the party hardly had any recognisable leaders at the state level. When Jayalalithaa died in 2016, the party decided to appoint OPS to the Chief Minister’s chair, as he had been the custodian of the chair whenever Jayalalithaa was facing criminal charges and had to step down from the post. OPS held power between December 6, 2016 and February 5, 2017

However, in February 2017, after what was seen as a massive defeat to the AIADMK-led government during the Jallikattu agitation, Sasikala moved to take over complete leadership of the party and the government. She got OPS removed from the Chief Minister’s post, and appointed hitherto unknown EPS to the post. This caused a lot of turmoil in the party, and OPS declared a ‘dharmayudham’ — a righteous war — against Sasikala and her camp.

There was further commotion in the party when Sasikala was jailed in the middle of February 2017 in a disproportionate assets case. Her nephew TTV Dhinakaran assumed de facto leadership of the party at this point, and in 2017 defeated a no-confidence motion against EPS in the TN Assembly.

In August 2017 however, the OPS and EPS factions of the party came together, and decided to kick out the then-imprisoned Sasikala, and TTV Dhinakaran, from holding primary membership of the party. During the merger, it was decided that the spirit of Jayalalithaa will hold the position of permanent general secretary of the AIADMK; EPS continued as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, OPS became the coordinator of AIADMK with EPS being co-coordinator.

However, ahead of the general council meeting of AIADMK to be held on June 23, the demand for a unitary leadership in the party has intensified. The party is no longer in power, and while OPS, who is the coordinator of AIADMK, is demanding that the party continue dual leadership, EPS, the co-coordinator of AIADMK, wants to take over the party himself. 

Despite repeatedly citing the 2017 resolution and saying that plans to revive the post of "permanent general secretary" of the party would be a betrayal of Jayalalithaa, many factions have moved to the EPS camp, and reports cited that AIADMK veteran Saidai Duraisamy is on the way to extend his support to EPS. Now, OPS has not more than five MLAs’ support out of the party's strength of 66, and less than 20% of the general council members back him. 

OPS and his supporters have sought postponement of the general council meeting. However, EPS and his followers insist on conducting the general council meeting as per schedule on June 23. This meeting has assumed significance as it is happening in the wake of the BJP's repeated attempts to overshadow the AIADMK.

BJP and AIADMK were in alliance earlier when AIADMK was in power, but there is a rift between the parties now, with many observers noting that BJP wants to become the principal opposition party in Tamil Nadu. Despite facing threats from the BJP’s activities, the party leaders are now focussed on capturing the legacy of Jayalalithaa.

Watch TNM's Shabbir Ahmed explain the reasons behind the standoff between the AIADMK leadership:

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