AIADMK’s Internal Tussle: A No Love Lost Story

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From the left: Edapaddi K. Palaniswami
(EPS) and O. Panneerselvam (OPS)

On the eve of Independence Day, the state of Tamil Nadu witnessed an atypical incident- Edapaddi K. Palaniswami, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and O. Panneerselvam, Former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (let us call them EPS and OPS respectively for the sake of brevity) were at variance with the AIADMK’s Chief Minister candidate for Legislative Assembly polls 2021. Both of them who are a part of AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), a party led by Jayalalitha for decades, had been crossing swords for the CM candidate for weeks and have ended the tussle by declaring EPS as the CM candidate for the upcoming 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly election. 

But what exactly has been brewing in AIAMDK, which was once reigning over the state of Tamil Nadu authoritatively and single-handedly until the demise of Jayalalitha in 2016? What will be AIADMK’s plan of action ahead and how will the skirmishes, internal tussles and DMK, an archrival rooting its hold in the upcoming elections change the political dynamics in the coming future? To answer these questions, I would have to take you to the 1970s where its history began to take roots.


  • Birth of AIADMK:

The AIADMK was established in the year 1972 by M.G. Ramchandran, as a breakaway from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Since then the AIADMK and DMK have been archrivals competing for a majority in the state of Tamil Nadu. In few years of its establishment, AIADMK rose to power as the second largest political party in Tamil Nadu. 

  •  The Jaya reign: 

With the death of M.G. Ramchandran, his wife, Janaki Ramachandran rose to power in 1988, but within a few days, the political party began to fall into pieces and due to factions between Janaki Ramchandran and Jayalalitha who was an assistant of M.G. Ramchandran. Due to these internal tussles, the party had to suffer huge losses in the upcoming elections. Thus, AIADMK merged under the leadership of Jayalalitha thereby regaining power. It was in 1991 that AIADMK rose to great heights due to the dismissal of DMK on charges that the constitutional machinery had broken down. The following image is a pictorial of the surge of power achieved by AIADMK in the 1991 election.

In 2001, Jayalalitha was prevented from holding office due to the proceedings of a disproportionate assets case occurring in her last incumbency. Thus, OPS was appointed as the Chief Minister temporarily in her place whereby the Supreme Court overruled the decision and acquitted Jayalalitha, she came back to power. 

Jayalalitha was considered “the mother” of AIADMK which is fairly understood and befitting with the potent and absolute reign she was able to shoulder on- Restricting liquor, lottery tickets, and sand quarrying business encouraging women to join the police task force etc.

In 2011, after a period of 10 years, she was back with her ardour and stability and was sworn as the Chief Minister for the fourth time. However, she had to step down as the Chief Minister in the year 2014 owing to the conviction in the disproportionate assets case along with her associates Sasikala and V. N. Sudhakaran. Thereby, OPS was again appointed as the Chief Minister to fill her space. 

Even though she again rose to power in the 2016 assembly elections, her unfortunate demise in the same year changed the political make-up of Tamil Nadu incessantly. Sasikala, a close associate of Jayalalitha was unanimously selected as the General Secretary. Since Sasikala was convicted in the Disproportionate Assets case, she appointed EPS as the Legislative party leader before going to prison. 

  • EPS v. OPS:

OPS was sworn as the Chief Minister of AIADMK after the demise of Jayalalitha, but he has had reported that Sasikala made him resign, and thereby, EPS rose to power. OPS, being a close associate of Jayalalitha and used to fill in her place when Jayalalitha was taken down as the Chief Minister due to her legal proceedings and convictions, he rightfully expected and deserved to be the Chief Minister in her absence. To add insult to injury, OPS was ousted by Sasikala from AIADMK since he had revolted against her for acting in violation of Jayalalitha’s principles, which in turn also led to even more frictions between the members of the party. Thereby, OPS formed his own different faction but not many MLAs followed him in his venture.

In pursuance of the same, the Election Commission of India gave separate party symbols to EPS and OPS’s factions- AIADMK (AMMA) and AIADMK (PURATCHI THALAIVI AMMA) respectively. Yet on 21st August 2017, both EPS and OPS merged their factions and came together by making EPS the Chief Minister, and OPS was sworn in as Deputy Chief Minister, Finance Minister, and convener of AIADMK. 

 The Present:

In AIADMK for decades to follow, it has had been a tradition not to make any announcement of the position of the Chief Minister, it used to be fairly assumed that party leaders such as M.G. Ramchandran, Jayalalitha would be the ones naturally heading the post. It was rather unusual that there would be a tussle between the members of the party for deciding the leadership. Nevertheless, the quietus of Jayalalitha, has created immense political changes in AAIDMK, be it a loss of a defining power or striving to succeed the throne where both EPS and OPS thought that they are befitting for the position. The fall of AIADMK as can be clearly be seen in the image highlighting the 2019 Lok Sabha election vis à vis 2014 Lok Sabha election is an indicative of the skirmishes in the party and the voters’ lack of trust which used to be strongly confided during Jaya’s reign.

The upcoming 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly Election has given rise to a scuffle between OPS and EPS to compete for the candidacy of the position of Chief Minister. OPS has been feeling sidelined and hamstrung for taking him down as the Chief Minister and replacing him with EPS. Along the same lines, EPS being the incumbent Chief minister would naturally want to hold on to his position. EPS has also thrown out Sasikala and her nephew Dhinkaran from their respective posts.

On October 7, ending the discontent amongst each other, Deputy Chief Minister and party coordinator, OPS himself announced that EPS would be the candidate for the post of Chief Minister for the upcoming 2021 elections. It seems that both have come halfway down with solutions- OPS has admitted to giving up his uncompromising stand for the candidacy of the position of Chief Minister in return of the formation of the Steering committee which would include 5 of his associates out of the 11-member committee, at the face of it seems to be a win-win situation for both of them. But is it the case for OPS? What will happen if Sasikala returns and quashes even the idea of such a committee?

The return of Sasikala:

 Even though from now Sasikala would show her presence in a month or so given her conviction ends in the coming days, EPS would still have a majority say in the party due to the massive and loyal support of the members of AIADMK. Whereas, the Steering committee would be largely impacted if Sasikala at its face rejects the formations of such a committee. The committee is the only way OPS would be able to cling onto himself and have his presence known, otherwise it would bring OPS back to square one, where he would not stand a chance to have any say in the administration of the party. Overall, the party seems to be in shackles given the lack of cooperation, understanding, and sense of mutual trust.

The future of AIADMK:

  • Leadership factions: A skirmish

Palaniswami’s potential will be tested in the upcoming 2021 elections. Be it EPS or OPS both had been expecting the position of Chief Minister in the wake of unprecedented circumstances. EPS’s true worth as a Chief Minister would be seen in these upcoming elections. But given the AIADMK’s confusing atmosphere, lack of charisma and no women representation does it affect its voters’ base?

Earlier AIADMK used to have rulers who single-handedly swooped in, enchanted a sense of trust in their voters, and won the elections through and through. The AIADMK has been in shackles since the demise of Jayalalitha. There have been indents in their functioning due to frictions amongst EPS, OPS, and Sasikala. Neither EPS nor OPS reflects the charisma that the party leaders like Jayalalitha used to adorn themselves with. The ruling party until now had won the hearts of its people, by their venturous singlehood and welfare-oriented decisions. A party which was ruled by a woman for decades had shown bewitching leadership and essential women representation in the party. Even here the present AIADMK fails to make a point. With the strong opposition party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), gaining due popularity, the chances of EPS winning in the 2021 elections seem bleak. A tweet by Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, K. S. Alagiri , an ally of DMK, puts light on the plight of AIADMK,

“Oh really!!!! Once upon a time, your party was like an emperor ruling Tamil Nadu, now reduced like a beggar. Your factions are notorious, well known in the country. If anybody wins, it could be possible due to luck or personal charisma. Your TNCC lacks the spine to negotiate anything favourable for the party”

  • The BJP Alliance: An own goal?

Another set of confusion lies in the alliance with BJP. It is the opinion of many AIADMK leaders that an alliance with BJP would do more harm than any good to the party, this itself was witnessed in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections. Yet another reaction to this is that without the alliance of BJP, AIADMK would not have seen the same result if they would have acted single-handedly. Also, BJP’s active presence in solving the factions between OPS and EPS and bringing out the merger has obligated AIADMK to keep its alliance with BJP.

It is an opinion of most of the AIADMK members that there has been an anti-BJP sentiment in the state, for numerous reasons – CAA, three language formula, NEET policy, etc; thus an alliance with BJP would jeopardize AIADMK’s chance to win the upcoming elections. Thus, it can be fairly implied that AIADMK seeks BJP as an ally out of compulsion whereas BJP is sticking around AIADMK for want of an ally. Even if AIADMK has announced its nominee for the upcoming elections, the internal friction between the party has not faded away. If OPS still creates unease and stays a fly in the ointment while functioning within the party, the future of AIADMK seems dim.

The whole dwindling situation seems to be a catalyst for DMK to reach upfront in the state without much ado. Few years ago, this party itself had witnessed stagnation in its political reforms, strategies and had run out of ideas to bring about any change in the political dynamics of the state with the AIADMK at the forefront. The image shows a statistical data analysis of the predicted winner of the 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly election based on 2016 and 2019 elections held in Tamil Nadu.

The demise of their archrival from AIADMK, the long-time tussle between EPS and OPS for succession, confusion on the lines of an alliance with BJP has made way for DMK to reach its purpose without a hitch. 

-Manasi Joglekar, Writer

Bharat Bhagya Vidhata.

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