The much-expected merger of the two major factions in the AIADMK – one led by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K. Palaniswami and the other by former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam — did not fructify on Friday. A senior leader belonging to the Panneerselvam faction brusquely told the media assembled at the latter’s house that there would be no press interaction and if there was one on Saturday the media would be informed. Informed sources said there were serious differences within the Panneerselvam camp over the modalities of merger which could not be sorted out during the over four-hour deliberation held at the former Chief Minister’s house — indicating serious differences. A senior member of the Panneerselvam camp told reporters that the decision on merger of the AIADMK — which broke up after the death in December last year of then Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa — had been left to Panneerselvam.
Members of the two factions had been confident on Thursday and early Friday that the two groups would become one after months of bickering. Accordingly, the Jayalalithaa memorial on the Marina beach was decked up with flowers, raising hopes that the two groups would be making a joint announcement on Friday evening. And large crowds began to gather there amid a drizzle. But this did not happen. AIADMK leaders and cadres had also been flocking through the day to the party headquarters.
The process of merger of the two factions got accelerated after Palaniswami announced on Thursday a judicial inquiry into Jayalalithaa’s death, after a prolonged illness, and the conversion of her Poes Garden residence here into a memorial. Panneerselvam had laid three conditions for a merger: keeping out AIADMK General Secretary and the now jailed V.K. Sasikala and her family, ordering a judicial probe into Jayalalithaa’s death and converting her home into a memorial.
The Palaniswami faction had only days ago declared the appointment of T.T.V. Dinakaran, Sasikala’s nephew, as Deputy General Secretary as “improper, unacceptable and invalid”. This was challenged by Dinakaran, who is said to have the support of around 20 legislators and who on Friday called on Sasikala in jail in Bengaluru. If the AIADMK merges, the party will get back its popular “two leaves” symbol which has been frozen by the Election Commission.
A likely merger will end the revolt ignited by Panneerselvam on February 7 when he dropped a bombshell, saying he was forced to resign as Chief Minister and to propose Sasikala as the party chief so that she could become the Chief Minister. Subsequently, the Supreme Court decided a dragging corruption case against Jayalalithaa, Sasikala and her relatives. The ruling ended Sasikala’s dreams of becoming the Chief Minister. She was jailed. After that, Sasikala-supporter Palaniswami became the Chief Minister but, over time, developed differences with Dinakaran and was willing to shake hands again with Panneerselvam.