CHENNAI: The political scene in Tamil Nadu heated up on Thursday around two simultaneous events — the appearance of Rajnikanth and Kamal Haasan at the platinum jubilee of DMK mouthpiece Murasoli in the audience and on the dais respectively; but more significantly, the merger talks between the two warring groups of the AIADMK reaching what seemed like a decisive phase.
With the restive AIADMK cadre exerting pressure from the ground and the BJP in the Centre nudging them towards a merger before the important local body elections in October, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisami and former CM O Paneerselvam were back at the negotiating table, working out a formula of merger acceptable to both sides. Two issues at the crux of the internecine war seemed on the verge of closure: the ownership of the now-frozen ‘two-leaf’ symbol of the AIADMK and the appointment of VK Sasikala (now in jail) as party general secretary and her powerful nephew TTV Dhinakaran as deputy general secretary.
One step was made towards a rapprochement with an AIADMK resolution on Thursday that said Dhinakaran’s February election was null and void. (Even though he, who controls about 22 MLAs, insisted only Sasikala can remove him).
According to highly placed sources in the EC, no hearing of the AIADMK case has been scheduled. However, once a merger takes place and the party elects a new general secretary and withdraws the rival claims on the party symbol, the issue gets resolved on its own, without the commission having to give a ruling for either side.
“The two-leaf symbol will automatically be defrozen, if the two sides merge and withdraw their petitions,’’ the EC sources explained. Also, technically there’s no bar on the AIADMK electing new office-bearer(s) post-merger, and in case of such a scenario, the earlier election to posts will be declared null and void.
Beyond these, the merger talks also hinge on the power-sharing formula being worked out. One of the options is that EPS continues as CM and OPS joins him as deputy CM with the key portfolio of PWD and Home. However, another version suggests that nothing might happen in the next few weeks as this is just a proposal by EPS. And that OPS has not decided as yet.
Incidentally, what has been one of the key demands of the OPS faction — an investigation into the cause of party leader J Jayalalithaa’s death — is not being thrown around at this moment.
Sources say figures close to OPS, like the group’s leader in Parliament V Maitreyan, are opposed to him accepting the downgraded post of Deputy CM. Whether Maitreyan will be allowed to be a stumbling block or would be offered a position to come on board, or simply sidelined needs to be seen. The second formula is that OPS be appointed party general secretary, with or without the Deputy CM position.
The other contentious point is how many portfolios the CM can spare for the OPS faction MLAs.
There’s little doubt that a merger is in the interest of both the factions. Moreover, the BJP/Prime Minister is willing to formally accommodate the AIADMK in the NDA, provided it’s a stable merged entity, and allocate Central portfolios. With Jayalalithaa gone and Karunandidhi ailing, a senior BJP minister admitted that they see a political space, if not a vacuum.
A united AIADMK, if brought into the NDA fold, would not only help the NDA further shore up its numbers in the Rajya Sabha but also give it more time to make inroads in TN.