Ever since the ‘single versus dual leadership’ debate erupted in the AIADMK about a month ago, the parting of ways between the then party coordinator, O. Panneerselvam, and co-coordinator, Edappadi K. Palaniswami, looked imminent. But what came as a shock was the violent manner in which the separation happened. About 45 minutes before the party general council began on July 11 in Vanagaram near Chennai, clashes between supporters of the two leaders broke out near the AIADMK’s party headquarters in Royapettah in the heart of the city. Mr. Panneerselvam, who was also invited to the general council, chose to visit the party headquarters when most of the leaders belonging to the Palaniswami camp were at least 15 km away from the office at the venue of the general council. The clashes that followed forced State Revenue Department officials to seal the party office hours later.
The circumstances which led to this ugly episode only illustrated the fragile nature of ties between Mr. Panneerselvam and Mr. Palaniswami. In September 2017, Mr. Panneerselvam became party coordinator and Mr. Palaniswami, co-coordinator for two reasons. One, the duo wanted to ensure that T.T.V. Dhinakaran, who had held the post of deputy general secretary of the AIADMK (Amma) at that time, was sidelined. They wanted to end the ‘hold’ of former interim general secretary V.K. Sasikala and her family over the party. Ms. Sasikala was serving a four-year-long sentence in Bengaluru when Mr. Panneerselvam and Mr. Palaniswami struck a deal. Two, the now-deposed coordinator, more than his erstwhile colleague, wanted to “oblige” Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who, according to Mr. Panneerselvam, had advised him to merge his group with that of Mr. Palaniswami and join the Ministry. Mr. Panneerselvam, who went on to serve as Deputy Chief Minister, holding the portfolios of Finance and Housing until the end of the AIADMK regime in May 2021, repeated this point a few weeks ago.
To the credit of the two leaders, they presented a picture of unity for most of the AIADMK government’s term. But their differences came to the surface in the later part of 2020 when Mr. Palaniswami forced the party to declare that he was its chief ministerial candidate about six months ahead the Assembly polls. It was only after a couple of meetings in May 2021 that he was elected leader of the legislature party of the AIADMK and consequently, Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. It took more than a month for the party to declare Mr. Panneerselvam the deputy leader of the legislature party. In the last 14 months, the two leaders made it a practice to issue separate statements on the same subjects, albeit using similar language. Given the way they finalised the names of candidates in May for two slots in the Rajya Sabha, it was obvious that it was only a matter of time before they would part ways.
Subsequently, the two sides fought it out in the courts of law prior to the June 23 and July 11 meetings of the general council. It was only a natural corollary that Mr. Panneerselvam and his associates would be removed from the party at the July 11 general council event. Mr. Palaniswami was made interim general secretary of the party and it was decided that the election for the post of general secretary would be held in four months.
The coming months are going to be challenging for both leaders. While Mr. Pannerselvam, his son P. Ravindhranath who is Theni MP, and their followers will have to find ways to keep themselves politically relevant, Mr. Palaniswami will have to make his party victorious in elections beginning with the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. As of now, there is little clarity on how they are going to achieve this. Needless to say, a divided Opposition is the best bet for the ruling DMK.