CHENNAI: The AIADMK is yet to extricate itself from the turbulence that rattled the party after the death of former general secretary J Jayalalithaa in December 2016. The two captains, Edappadi K Palaniswami and O Pannerselvam, are trying to simultaneously hold on to the rudder, elbow out each other, and keep the party ship afloat. Their success rate, however, has been sketchy.
Facing defeat at the hands of the DMK after 10 years in office, the AIADMK, which, according to some analysts, has 30% vote-share and close to one crore members, remains the only potent force that can challenge the DMK organizationally and politically in TN. But this legacy is now facing a serious challenge.
Common foe V K Sasikalam has been a binding force that sustained the tenuous truce between O Panneerselvam and Edappadi K Palaniswami. The rapprochement between the two got a formal and legal endorsement with one-vote, two-candidate inner party poll last month that sealed their position as the coordinator and joint coordinator of the AIADMK. The amendments and the new bylaws may help them shut the door on VK Sasikala for now. But she is not the only threat, and 2022 could pose stiffer challenges. A battery of corruption cases against former ministers, pressure on the leadership to pull off a decent victory in urban local bodies, expected in February-March, after an insipid outing in the rural civic polls, and fresh probes into the Kodanadu heist and murder case are headwinds that can upend the position of OPS and EPS. The issues may also affect the morale of party cadres who are still smarting under the back-to-back poll debacles.
Till 2020, former CM Edappadi K Palaniswami fought the battle against OPS from a position of strength by keeping his supporters happy by sharing the spoils of war. But the assembly poll defeat changed that. In fact, he had to fight hard to get OPS’s endorsement for his candidature as the AIADMK’s CM face for the TN assembly polls. His election strategy to provide 10.5% quota to the vanniyar community, which was seen by some as a ploy to ensure his victory in his home turf Edappadi and central and western regions of the state, weakened the base of the party among other communities, particularly thevars, in southern districts and led to the party losing dearly at the hustings.
The slugfest between EPS and OPS, which saw both the leaders campaigning separately, didn’t help the party either. Their next test could be to successfully complete the organizational polls and get a stamp of approval of the party’s general council. Despite the photo-op of friendship, Panneerselvam and Palaniswami continue to issue separate statements. Panneerselvam hardly visits northern districts, and Palaniswami seldom ventures into southern turf. This could cast a shadow on the trustworthiness of the dual leadership and its effectiveness to take the fight to the DMK.
Though V K Sasikala’s big-bang return to the state after four-year jail term in Bengaluru jail rattled the AIADMK leadership, her audio outreach to disgruntled cadres did not trigger a mutiny within the party as she expected. Her grand plan to start a statewide tour to meet grassroots workers, too, remains a nonstarter. Despite multiple attempts, there is no perceptible support for her from the party’s existing rank and file.
The BJP, an ally of the AIADMK, is trying to gain ground in the state, and its
chief K Annamalai said his party would form the next government in the state in 2026 Assembly elections. The intra-party wrangling has eclipsed the AIADMK’s stature as an effective opposition party and its saffron ally is now trying to take over that role.
The PMK has already quit the alliance, and the AIADMK has to now face the civic polls in pact with the BJP and a few minor allies. The alliance with the saffron party has already had a deleterious effect on the AIADMK’s support base among the minorities. The urban civic polls can turn out to be a defining people’s verdict on the future of the AIADMK as we know it and its two leaders.