AIADMK’s existential crisis

AIADMK coordinator O. Panneerselvam and joint coordinator Edappadi K. Palaniswami at an Iftar party in Chennai

AIADMK coordinator O. Panneerselvam and joint coordinator Edappadi K. Palaniswami at an Iftar party in Chennai | Photo Credit: R. Ravindran

The AIADMK, which should be busy organising its golden jubilee, is facing an existential crisis as another split in the party looks imminent. This time, the bone of contention between rival factions is the issue of leadership.

When coordinator O. Panneerselvam and co-coordinator Edappadi K. Palaniswami, in a joint statement issued on June 2, announced that the executive committee and the general council would hold their deliberations on June 23, many thought that the event was being organised only to fulfill the legal requirement of having to ratify the results of the just-concluded organisational elections. Again, discussions among district secretaries and headquarters’ functionaries, held at the party office on June 14, gave the impression initially that the proposed general council meeting was a mere formality. It was a low-key former Minister, Madhavaram V. Moorthy, who put the cat among the pigeons by mooting the idea of “single leadership” in the party. Most office bearers echoed his demand, taking Mr. Panneerselvam by surprise. In June 2019 too, after the party faced a rout in the Lok Sabha elections, its Madurai (sub-urban) district secretary and Tirupparankundram legislator, V.V. Rajan Chellappa, had made this demand.

The message of those who want change is obvious: a post should be created above those of coordinator and co-coordinator, and Mr. Palaniswami should occupy such a post. It was in September 2017, at the time of the merger of two groups, led by Mr. Panneerselvam and Mr. Palaniswami, that the general council abolished the post of general secretary. It appears that at least 60 out of 75 district secretaries and a large number of the headquarters’ functionaries are with this camp, which wants the general council to meet as scheduled.

The reason cited by this camp is that the “dual leadership” has “only hampered” the working of the party, which is seen conceding the Opposition space to the BJP, whose president K. Annamalai has emerged as a virulent critic of the DMK. This camp also subtly argues that Mr. Panneerselvam has been “quite soft” towards the ruling party. Besides, the way in which the party announced its nominees for two Rajya Sabha seats last month precipitated the divide between the two camps. Mr. Panneerselvam and Mr. Palaniswami dragged their feet to arrive at a consensus. When Mr. Panneerselvam opted for former Ramanathapuram district secretary R. Dharmar, who was with him at the time of the latter’s “dharmayudham” in 2017, Mr. Palaniswami did not anticipate the selection. Those who want change feel that the Panneerselvam camp has been “enjoying fruits” disproportionate to its strength in the party. They have decided to use the general council to cut the other side to size.

However, the group representing Mr. Panneerselvam feels that the coordinator has all along been “extremely accommodative” since the merger of the two factions. These members of the party also question the need for any change, as it was only in December last that the two leaders were elected to their respective posts for a term of five years through a single vote and with the support of all primary members. Besides, only six months ago, the party chose to adopt the rule that the mode of election of candidates for the two posts was beyond change and correction. Knowing that they are not strong numerically, the members of this camp are even contemplating getting the general council postponed by approaching the judiciary.

There is one section of leaders in the party who are hoping against hope for reconciliation between the two camps. Notwithstanding the outcome of this episode, it is clear that the AIADMK, which suffered erosion in its vote base after the death of Jayalalithaa in December 2016, will find the going getting tougher than in the past.

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Printable version | Jul 19, 2022 11:58:30 am |