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Will Sasikala emerge successful in her attempt to 'reclaim' the AIADMK?

The AIADMK, which has been speaking in 'one voice' on keeping Sasikala at bay, is now sending 'mixed signals'
Last Updated : 27 October 2021, 17:04 IST
Last Updated : 27 October 2021, 17:04 IST
Last Updated : 27 October 2021, 17:04 IST
Last Updated : 27 October 2021, 17:04 IST

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Five months after she announced her return to politics, V K Sasikala seems to have finally stirred the hornet’s nest in the AIADMK, Tamil Nadu’s principal Opposition party.

The AIADMK, which has been speaking in “one voice” on keeping Sasikala at bay, is now sending “mixed signals”. As the all-powerful friend of late J Jayalalithaa, Sasikala had controlled the AIADMK from the sidelines for decades but is now locked in an intense battle with her one-time lieutenants for political survival.

Though the opposition to taking her back into the party is real and strong given the anti-Sasikala faction is headed by Edappadi K Palaniswami, who has the backing of the majority of the AIADMK MLAs, the new voices (read O Panneerselvam) that appear to be supporting Sasikala’s “re-entry” cannot be brushed aside either.

Sasikala begins her tour

On her part, Sasikala is also not taking things lightly anymore. After being confined to her palatial bungalow in upscale T. Nagar for over six months, the ousted AIADMK general secretary has finally begun her political sojourn.

She will tour a few districts in southern Tamil Nadu this week during which she will pay respects to ‘Pasumpon’ Muthuramalinga Thevar, a revered political figure from the Mukulathor community to which she too belongs, at his mausoleum on Friday.

Sasikala has vowed to “reclaim” the AIADMK from the current leadership –Panneerselvam and Palaniswami – following the party’s defeat in the April 6 assembly elections. However, the close friend of late Jayalalithaa is yet to make any headway in her efforts to take over the AIADMK leadership with no visible swell in her support base.

‘Newfound’ support from OPS

What could hold out some hope to Sasikala in her quest to take control of the party yet again – she was interim general secretary for ten months after Jayalalithaa’s death in 2016 -- is the latest statement by her one-time foe Panneerselvam who has taken a completely different line from that of the AIADMK vis-à-vis her return to the party fold.

During an interaction with media on Monday, Panneerselvam, flanked by Mukulathor leaders, said a decision on reinduction of Sasikala into the AIADMK will be taken by the party’s High Command, a statement that is in direct contradiction with Palaniswami’s stand that Sasikala has “no place” in the outfit.

Panneerselvam’s statement is not just a retort to Palaniswami, political analysts say, but also a signal to Sasikala that he may not be averse to doing business with her. The fact that no former minister who was present when OPS made the statement took objection to it might indicate more than what meets the eye, they said.

“Sasikala is OPS’ umbrella in the storm of solitude. OPS will be willing to put his weight behind Sasikala as he feels isolated within the party. And for the AIADMK, she could become a rallying point as far as the Mukulathors are concerned. Even if the Mukulathors back Sasikala, she will face tough resistance from the EPS camp,” senior journalist R Bhagwan Singh told DH.

OPS’ statement and the fallout

Sidelined completely within the party after he was forced by the BJP to play the second fiddle to EPS who was the Chief Minister then, OPS is slowly starting to reassert his authority within the AIADMK and might be willing to join the Sasikala bandwagon to send a message to his former boss, Palaniswami.

The statement by OPS, who rebelled against Sasikala in 2017 only after which Palaniswami was elected as leader of AIADMK Legislature Party, has cheered the Sasikala camp, with T T V Dhinakaran welcoming the move and terming Panneerselvam as a “calm and composed” person.

With her repeated assertions on “taking over,” the party not finding enough supporters within the AIADMK, OPS’ support may provide much-needed momentum to Sasikala’s campaign. Even if Sasikala gets an opening in the AIADMK courtesy OPS, the camp led by EPS will oppose her re-entry tooth and nail for it would dilute its powers within the party, to say the least.

Prof. Ramu Manivannan, Head of the Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras, told DH that at best Sasikala can “control the party” as she does not have enough time to become a “mass leader.”

“The AIADMK has to come into a revival mode. They are harming the party. I think EPS is strategically indifferent because he is content with what he has. He knows he will not be accepted by everyone as the leader. So, he is just content with what he has by ignoring the leadership issue. I don’t see Sasikala also attaining a dominant position immediately. The first thing AIADMK should do is to unite all factions and then choose a leader,” he said.

For anyone to take full control of the party will be a long haul given the simmering differences between the warring factions.

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Published 27 October 2021, 16:57 IST

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