Just days before it marks the golden jubilee celebration of its founding, the AIADMK has suffered a drubbing in the recently held rural local body elections in nine districts in Tamil Nadu. The ruling DMK has swept the polls, leaving all others including the principal opposition party in the dust. The loss comes as the AIADMK faces a crisis, with power, the glue that held it together after late CM J Jayalalithaa’s death in 2016, falling out of its grasp this year after a decade in office.
From 2017 to 2021, Edappadi K Palaniswami, as chief minister, steered the party through multiple crises, succeeding in preventing a major split or, more significantly, loss of the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol. Yet, the cracks were merely papered over. Now looms the threat of V K Sasikala, Jayalalithaa’s former aide, returning to active politics and making a play for power. Meanwhile, it is more than evident that Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam, the party’s coordinator, are not on the same page. The AIADMK’s grassroots workers know this too, a significant number opting to join other parties after the state Assembly elections earlier this year. The party’s biggest weakness, of course, remains the lack of a charismatic leader—founder M G Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa were larger-than-life personas who drew crowds but also cultivated a personality-centric party, which brought its own limitations.
Yet all is not lost. Although the party lost the Assembly polls amid significant anti-incumbency, it still retained 66 seats on its own, defending its bastion in the west. Further, the widely recognised Two Leaves remains in its hands. A strong AIADMK is in the interests of the state and is pivotal to its political future. For this reason, its leaders must look at reviving and rebuilding the party from the ground up, even perhaps using the opportunity to grow beyond its roots as a personality-centred political outfit.