At 50, AIADMK is facing its toughest challenge

Veterans say the party will come out of the present crisis; EC's decision on petitions from rival camps, legal battles and Sasikala's next move may shape the party's future

Updated - October 17, 2022 11:33 am IST

Published - October 16, 2022 11:34 pm IST - CHENNAI

The AIADMK office at Lloyd’s Road in Chennai.  File

The AIADMK office at Lloyd’s Road in Chennai. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

No other foundation day (October 17) of the AIADMK would have generated as much anxiety among the party members and sympathisers as the event this year.

When founder M.G. Ramachandran and his successor Jayalalithaa were alive, the AIADMK went through trying times. But the leaders’ charisma and ability to reach out to different parties and stitch coalitions, coupled with other factors, helped the party cope with the difficulties. But, with no charismatic leader at the top and with little possibility of reunion of all those who have moved out of its fold, the party, which suffered successive electoral setbacks, is facing its toughest challenge in the last 50 years. “The party workers have been nursing the grievance over the ongoing power struggle among the leaders,” says A. Anwhar Raajhaa, an expelled leader and former Member of Parliament from Ramanathapuram.

J.C.D. Prabhakar, former Villivakkam MLA and a key member of the camp led by former coordinator O. Panneerselvam, recounts, “The AIADMK had run into crises at least on three occasions. The first occasion was the party’s drubbing in the 1980 Lok Sabha election, followed by the dismissal of the MGR government. However, the party regained power in the Assembly election held the very same year. The second was the split in 1987-88, when two groups, headed by Janaki Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa, had emerged. After Janaki Ramachandran herself lost, along with a host of her colleagues, in the 1989 Assembly election, she graciously quit politics and let Jayalalithaa run the party. The third was the division following Jayalalithaa’s death. With Mr. Panneerselvam joining hands with Edappadi K. Palaniswami in August 2017, we came out of that difficult period.”

Mr. Prabhakar recalls Mr. Pannerselvam’s oft-repeated statement that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s advice to him was instrumental in his joining the Palaniswami Ministry then. However, he is not in a position to say how long the present phase of trouble will continue. But the Palaniswami camp is upbeat about its future. The party’s rank and file has been rallying behind Mr. Palaniswami, says a veteran, adding that many long-standing members, including S. Semmalai, P. Venugopal, K.A. Sengottaiyan and Tamilmagan Hussain, are all with him. “It is quite clear to people that we are the effective Opposition party that can take on the DMK. Be it the issue of property tax increase or power tariff increase, we organised State-wide agitations,” says D. Jayakumar, former Fisheries Minister and the AIADMK’s organisation secretary. He also points out how the Palaniswami camp has been successful in legal battles against the Panneerselvam camp. “This only reinforces our strength.” 

It is not that this camp is unaware of the BJP’s drive to gain a foothold in the State. “In a democratic set-up, it is the legitimate right of any party to ensure its growth,” Mr. Jayakumar says. Yet, the former MP of Ramanathapuram says neither the BJP nor the DMK can demolish the AIADMK’s vast network at the grass-roots.

Editorial | AIADMK’s troubles

Notwithstanding the strengths and weaknesses of the two camps, the party’s future may get shaped by the outcome of the legal battles, which involve former interim general secretary V.K. Sasikala, too, apart from the Election Commission’s decision on the petitions from both camps. In the last one-and-a-half years, Ms. Sasikala has been keeping herself busy either through her outreach programmes or through her visits to different parts of the State, though she has not launched any party, unlike her nephew and former MP T.T.V. Dhinakaran.Of late, Mr. Dhinakaran has been talking of the need for all anti-DMK forces to come together to defeat the ruling party in the 2024 Lok Sabha election. 

Though it is an open secret that the 2024 verdict will decide the future of the AIADMK, it is obvious that unless the party retrieves its lost base, it cannot hope for a comeback.

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