Making friends: on AIADMK merger

The BJP would like a united AIADMK as an ally, but with a weak leadership

August 16, 2017 12:02 am | Updated December 04, 2021 10:45 pm IST

In theory, the two factions of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam have every reason to merge. The original cause of the split, the dominance of the Sasikala family in the party, is now seemingly irrelevant: Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, who was elected as the leader of the AIADMK legislature party at a meeting presided over by V.K. Sasikala, is more assertive now, shepherding a resolution to rescind the appointment of her nephew, T.T.V. Dhinakaran, as deputy general secretary of the party. Also, both factions need to retrieve the party election symbol, Two Leaves, that has been frozen by the Election Commission. This is unlikely without a formal merger. However, things are not exactly what they seem. Despite the distancing from Mr. Dhinakaran, the ruling faction of the AIADMK, the AIADMK (Amma), is hesitant to speak harshly of Ms. Sasikala, other than to say the party’s cadres would not like anyone else to occupy the post of “permanent general secretary” held by Jayalalithaa. O. Panneerselvam, the leader of the breakaway faction, met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “convey the sentiments of the AIADMK cadres”, a shorthand for opposition to the merger proposal. With elections to the Lok Sabha two years away, and to the State Assembly four years away, there is no pressure to hurry through with the merger process. But issues that stand in the way, the competing ambitions of Mr. Palaniswami and Mr. Panneerselvam, and the acute differences over sharing ministerial berths and party posts, are unlikely to disappear. The demand for constituting a probe into Jayalalithaa’s death is a cover for other unstated claims to power and pelf. After months of deep distrust, the two factions are not going to magically come together all of a sudden without working out a practical power-sharing arrangement.

As things stand, a merger can only be mediated by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which seems to wield considerable influence with both factions on account of being in power at the Centre. In recent times, searches by Income Tax, Enforcement Directorate, and the Central Bureau of Investigation have made leaders of both factions cosy up to Mr. Modi. The BJP needs a united AIADMK, with its election symbol et al , but without a strong leadership, as an instrument to find a political foothold in Tamil Nadu. Over the long term, the national party would like to eat into the vote bank of the AIADMK, but in the near term an alliance with a weakened AIADMK would do. Just as the split earlier served its purpose of isolating the corruption-tainted Sasikala family, a merger now would serve the purpose of finding an important, but non-domineering ally. But the influence of the Sasikala family works also in unseen ways, and the BJP could well be overestimating its own power over the ruling faction of the AIADMK. There is no telling who is using whom.

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