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Tamil Nadu: Violent battle erupts for AIADMK crown

Edappadi K. Palaniswami selected as interim general secretary, O. Panneerselvam expelled from party
Palaniswami after being elected as AIADMK interim general secretary in Chennai on Monday.
Palaniswami after being elected as AIADMK interim general secretary in Chennai on Monday.
PTI picture

M.R. Venkatesh   |   Chennai   |   Published 12.07.22, 03:30 AM

The festering infighting in the AIADMK, Tamil Nadu’s main Opposition party, snowballed into a full-blown confrontation between its two factions that was a hark back to the tumultuous days of 1988 following the death of founder-leader MGR.

Violent clashes erupted between supporters of O. Panneerselvam and Edappadi K. Palaniswami near the party headquarters in Chennai, MGR Maaligai, forcing police and revenue authorities to seal the premises.

A court-allowed AIADMK general council being held elsewhere around the same time expelled Panneerselvam from the party and unanimously elected Palaniswami as its interim general secretary.   

Following the death of the charismatic M.G. Ramachandran in December 1987, the party had split similarly into two factions — one led by his wife and former actress Janaki Ramachandran and the other by then propaganda secretary and the matinee idol’s leading lady in many films, Jayalalithaa.

But the big difference now is that the two rivals vying for the AIADMK’s top slot are ordinary party “loyalists” who rose through the ranks with no high-profile image or legacy to flaunt.

Around 9am on Monday, Madras High Court gave the go-ahead to an AIADMK general council meeting after dismissing applications from Panneerselvam to stay it. The council, the party’s supreme policy-making body, swiftly got into action, led by Palaniswami and presidium chairman Tamil Magan Hussain.

Amid vociferous demands by party workers to immediately remove Panneerselvam, former minister Natham Viswanathan moved a resolution to expel Panneerselvam from all AIADMK posts, including that of treasurer and even primary membership. The general council members approved this. 

Three of Panneerselvam’s top aides — MLAs P.H. Manoj Pandian and K. Vaithyalingam and former MLA J.C.D. Prabhakaran — were also stripped of all party posts.

Panneerselvam, who had been batting for dual leadership, is likely to lose the post of deputy leader of the AIADMK legislature party too.

Over 2,500 party members and functionaries congregated at the general council meeting venue in suburban Vanagaram to vote for amending the AIADMK’s bye-laws to abolish the dual posts of party coordinator and co-coordinator that Panneerselvam and Palaniswami had been holding, respectively, and to restore the general secretary’s post after a gap of nearly five years.

Panneerselvam kept away from the meeting and drove down to the party headquarters with his supporters. Backers of Panneerselvam and Palaniswami clashed near the party office, hurling stones, chairs and sticks at each other. More than 10 persons were injured.

Panneerselvam’s supporters barged into the locked premises and declared him the “party leader”. They dangled his portrait from the building’s first-floor balcony, from where Jayalalithaa used to wave to crowds.

At the general council, 16 resolutions read out by former minister R.B. Udayakumar were unanimously adopted. They included abolishing the dual posts of coordinator and co-coordinator and replacing them with the post of general secretary.

The resolutions were 0conveyed to the Election Commission of India.

The dual leadership had taken effect in September 2017 as part of a compromise deal between Panneerselvam and Palaniswami that helped reunite the party and retain its popular “Two Leaves” symbol.

The party had split vertically after Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016.    

Through another resolution on Monday, Palaniswami was unanimously elected interim general secretary, pending the conduct of a regular election to that post within four months. He announced that former minister Dindigul C. Sreenivasan would be AIADMK treasurer.

Former chief minister Palaniswami accused his once deputy Panneerselvam of being self-centered, hobnobbing with the ruling DMK and scheming to “destroy” the AIADMK.

Stating that dual leadership did not work for the party, Palaniswami said repeated pleas to Pannerselvam to help restore single leadership for effective functioning fell on deaf ears. “We suffered under the dual leadership arrangement, but Panneerselvam remained adamant till the end and did not budge an inch,” Palaniswami said.

Palaniswami alleged that Panneerselvam had vandalised the AIADMK headquarters and taken away party records and laptops.

Senior leader D. Jayakumar threatened legal action against Panneerselvam. 

At the AIADMK headquarters, Panneerselvam declared that he continued to be the party’s coordinator and that the general council had no power to remove him.

Panneerselvam announced that “I am expelling” Palaniswami and his aide K.P. Munusamy from the primary membership of the AIADMK for anti-party activities. 

Panneerselvam and his supporters sat on a dharna at the party headquarters, but had to leave when the police decided to seal the premises and impose prohibitory orders in the area.

Later in the evening, Palaniswami paid homage to the memorials of MGR and Jayalalithaa on the Marina beach.

Pannerselvam and his group, who represent the powerful OBC Thevars in the southern districts, have been outnumbered in the intra-party fracas. Palaniswami enjoys the support of the majority of the party’s general council members and office-bearers.

Further, Panneerselvam has the support of just two or three of the 66 AIADMK MLAs, besides a sole MP. Most of the others are with Palaniswami, who they say had been a successful chief minister and whose dynamism and quick decision-making is the need of the hour if the AIADMK has to avert ceding ground to ally BJP.

A source predicted a long-drawn legal battle and felt the BJP could be open to a tie-up with either AIADMK group, depending on who can assure the saffron camp at least 20 of the 40 seats from Tamil Nadu and Puducherry in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

“This is a drama directed by the BJP,” senior DMK leader T.K.S. Elangovan said.

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