The state of confusion surrounding the AIADMK is expected to end sooner than later, with the Madras High Court deciding in favour of the AIADMK’s interim General Secretary, Edappadi K. Palaniswami, the case concerning resolutions adopted at the party’s July 2022 special General Council meeting. The development may not lead immediately to the closure of the legal battle, as his colleague-turned-bête noire O. Panneerselvam and his followers — the court rejected their interim applications — have approached a Division Bench of the court. But, the verdict has provided the much-needed clarity on the matter of leadership. Moments after the ruling, Mr. Palaniswami was declared elected unopposed as the party’s General Secretary. Ever since the debate erupted between the two camps in June last year over the nature of party leadership — unitary or dual — the matter has been locked in litigation before the higher judiciary. Most often, the camp led by Mr. Palaniswami got favourable verdicts, including the February 2023 judgment of the Supreme Court which affirmed the Madras High Court’s decision upholding the conduct of the July 2022 meeting.
Mr. Palaniswami should now focus his time, energy and resources in ensuring that his party plays the role of a more effective Opposition entity, as the intra-party squabbling and litigation have boosted the perception of ineffective functioning. He should also try and widen the party’s support base. Its vote share of 44.34% in contested seats during the 2014 Lok Sabha election (when it fielded candidates in all constituencies in Tamil Nadu) fell to 35.2% five years later when the party headed a coalition that included the BJP, the PMK and the DMDK. Though there was an improvement, to 40.48%, in the 2021 Assembly polls, the AIADMK was still behind its traditional rival, the DMK, by nearly 6%. Going by the reactions of the BJP and PMK leadership to the new General Secretary, the AIADMK could have these parties on its side for the 2024 Lok Sabha election. However, if the idea of a “mega alliance” that was floated by Mr. Palaniswami a few months ago is to fructify, it has to have more allies. Mr. Panneerselvam, who seems continuously engaged in a legal battle, has two options — either patch up with Mr. Palaniswami or launch a party. By going it alone, he will only end up repeating what Mr. Dhinakaran did, in 2019 and 2021 — taking away a portion of the AIADMK’s votes. It is only when the principal Opposition party is able to bring together as many parties and groups as possible, that its electoral fight next year with the DMK and its allies will be intense. Mr. Palaniswami has a huge role to play in making it happen. A well-meaning, credible Opposition that raises the level of political discourse in Tamil Nadu can certainly aid in governance.