Chennai, Aug. 21 (Agencies): Ottakarathevar Panneerselvam was on Monday sworn in as deputy chief minister of Tamil Nadu in a power-sharing arrangement with the AIADMK faction led by Chief Minister K. Palaniswami, signalling the merger of factions created following the death last December of J. Jayalalithaa, the state and party's iconic leader.
Panneerselvam, a Jayalalithaa loyalist who succeeded her as chief minister before being ousted by her former confidante V.K. Sasikala, will now be the coordinator of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, while Palaniswami will be the co-coordinator in Tamil Nadu.
The cabinet will also be shuffled, it was announced here.
The decisions came after weeks of hard bargaining by factions led by the two leaders, who have questioned Sasikala's appointment as party general secretary.
Loyalists of Sasikala continued to maintain that party cadres are with her. Sasikala's bid for power was cut short when the Supreme Court sent her to jail on February 15, in an old corruption case in which her mentor had also figured.
The fate of Sasikala's nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran, who had been put in a party post as a proxy for her, was also uncertain in the new setup.
Palaniswami was the first to arrive at the party office on Monday. Panneerselvam came a bit later, his first visit after almost seven months. Both were given a rousing reception by party cadres who swarmed the party headquarters and lined up along the road leading to the premises.
Paneerselvam was welcomed by Walajabad B. Ganesan, a senior functionary of Amma camp which was led by Palaniswami, with a shawl. The rebel leader had earlier visited the office before his revolt against Sasikala on February seven.
Prior to Panneerselvam's arrival, his loyalists including P. Munusamy, Rajya Sabha MP V. Maithreyan, senior leader C. Ponnaiyan, and former MP, P.H. Manoj Pandian converged at the office.
The factional feud began in February after Panneerselvam revolted against Sasikala. The former chief minister had said that he was forced to resign from his post and asserted that only a person desired by people and cadres should succeed him in the government and party.
Panneerselvam was immediately sacked from the top party post of treasurer, marking the birth of the rebel AIADMK (Puratchi Thalaivi Amma) faction.
Subsequently, Sasikala named Palaniswami as Legislature Party Leader as she herself had to go to Bangalore to serve a prison sentence following her conviction in the disproportionate assets case.
Soon, Palaniswami took over as chief minister and his government was ridiculed as a proxy of Sasikala by rebel Panneerselvam and opposition parties led by the DMK.
In April this year, in a political twist, Tamil Nadu Cabinet gave indications of sidelining Sasikala and Dhinakaran.
Palaniswami gradually emerged as leader of a faction of about 122 MLAs in the 234 member assembly.
The OPS camp had nine MLAs, including himself.
Palaniswami and his Cabinet colleagues took a stand against Dhinakaran in April for the first time after bypoll to RK Nagar bypoll constituency, represented by late Jayalalithaa, was cancelled.
They were also on the same page after Dhinarakan was named in a case of trying to bribe Election Commission officials during April
Further hardening the stand against Dhinakaran, an August 10 meeting chaired by Palaniswami said his appointment went against party bye-laws, setting the stage for a formal merger.
Following it up, the government also announced an inquiry into Jayalalithaa's death and declared that Amma's Poes Garden residence would be taken over and turned into a memorial.
By conceding these key demands of the Panneerselvam camp, the process of unification got a fresh impetus and following several rounds of deliberations, the merger came through.
The development will bring some relief to supporters of the AIADMK, which came to power in May 2016 and has been struggling to keep its pack together following the death of party supremo Jayalalithaa in December last year.
Meanwhile, Dhinakaran loyalist C.R. Saraswathi asked what was the reason behind Sasikala being “eased out” and what wrong she had done to Panneerselvam or Palaniswami. “It is our desire that the party should be united,” he said.
The merger came days after Dhinakaran held a rally at Madurai in which about 20 legislators and six MPs participated.