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‘Want Jayalalithaa regime back’: Heart of crisis in AIADMK as Sasikala seeks to reclaim party

Sasikala, the one-time close aide of Jayalalithaa, was expelled from AIADMK in 2017. Its senior leaders have threatened legal action over Sasikala naming herself as ‘general secretary’ of party.  

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New Delhi: As the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (AIADMK) kickstarts its golden jubilee celebrations, ousted leader and once close aide of Jayalalithaa, V. Sasikala, is making renewed attempts to lay claim to the party she was expelled from in 2017. 

On Sunday, she unveiled a plaque naming herself as the ‘general secretary’ of the party, a post that Jayalalithaa held, and unfurled the AIADMK flag at the memorial of the party founder, former CM and movie superstar MG Ramachandran (MGR), in Chennai while also stressing on the need for ‘unity’.

The AIADMK and its senior leaders have not taken too kindly to the display and have come out strongly against the expelled leader and even threatened legal action. 

Speaking to ThePrint, senior AIADMK leader and former state cabinet minister C. Ponnaiyan said Sasikala had no right to declare herself as the general secretary, a post that was Jayalalithaa’s and still not filled as she was the permanent general secretary. He added that Sasikala had nothing to do with the AIADMK. 

“The party will definitely take legal action against her as her claiming to be the party chief goes against the court verdict and EC orders; therefore, this is a case of contempt of court,” he said.

Another senior AIADMK leader said Sasikala had become the “laughing stock in front of the public”, because, according to him, she named herself as general secretary with the cadre of the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), the breakaway faction. 

But even within the AIADMK, only those leaders seen as being in the camp of former chief minister Edapaddi Palaniswami (EPS) have hit out at Sasikala, while those associated with former deputy CM O. Panneerselvam (OPS) have been silent. Some leaders in the party have even questioned OPS’ loyalty, claiming he would side with Sasikala if the balance of power tilts in her favour.

Nirmala Periyasamy, another senior AIADMK leader, said while EPS was staunchly against Sasikala, one did not know which way OPS would swing as he could favour her. 

She added that OPS “informally met Dhinakaran (Sasikala’s nephew), maintains relations with Sasikala and has been openly praising Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) in the assembly”. 

In 2018, Dhinakaran had even claimed that OPS met him and promised to join him in opposing Edappadi Palaniswami.

Periyasamy further asserted that none of the party cadre trust Sasikala, yet ceded that the reports of friction between EPS and OPS is something Sasikala would capitalise on.

Also read: How actor Vijay scored a blockbuster poll debut without even contesting elections

Sasikala’s tumultuous past

V.K. Sasikala, a divisive factor in the AIADMK, has a tumultuous past with the party, which began shortly after Jayalalitha’s death. 

Right after Jayalalitha’s death in December 2016, OPS was sworn in as CM. However two months later, in February 2017, resigned for “personal reasons”. After this, began the shifting balance of power in the party for the entire year. 

After OPS’ resignation, Sasikala was appointed head of the legislative party and was to be sworn in as CM. The then governor, C. Vidyasagar Rao, however, said he was unable to attend the swearing-in due to scheduling issues which is why it was postponed. A day later, OPS made a revelation that he was “forced to resign”. 

It is from this point onwards that factionalism began in the party. On 12 February, MLAs supporting Sasikala were lodged in a resort near Chennai, after six MLAs pledged support to OPS. 

Sasikala’s plans of a takeover were disrupted when the Supreme Court convicted her in the disproportionate assets case. And as it became clear that she would have to spend time in jail, EPS was elected leader of the legislative party. 

Two days later, on 16 February, EPS was sworn in as CM and while the cabinet was left unchanged, OPS and the leaders siding with him (Mafoi Pandiarajan) found no place in it. A panel was then formed in April to work towards a merger between OPS and EPS. And in August 2017, both leaders met PM Modi to unite the two warring factions. A solution was reached after two of OPS’ demands were met —  a memorial for Jayalalitha at Poes Garden and a judicial probe into her death. 

Exactly a month after both EPS and OPS were sworn in as CM and deputy CM, Sasikala was expelled from all party posts of the AIADMK. 

Despite getting a rousing welcome upon her release from prison earlier this year, Sasikala surprised everyone right before the Tamil Nadu assembly elections, announcing that she was stepping back from politics. However, when the AIADMK lost the polls, she bounced back to action speaking to many AIADMK cadre and promising she would be back once Covid settled down. 

Attempting to nip in the bud any potential revolt, the party high command dismissed over 20 party cadres earlier this year for indulging in ‘anti-party activities’. The dismissed workers had been on call with Sasikala. 

While there are reports of a widening rift between OPS and EPS, many think this is the perfect opportunity for Sasikala to capitalise on this, starting with a statewide tour beginning on 27 August.

Want AIADMK back, says Dhinakaran 

While AIADMK leaders rejected Sasikala naming herself as general secretary of the party, the breakaway faction, AMMK, headed by Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran said that their motto was the same — to get the AIADMK back.

“We want to get back the old regime of Jayalalithaa. Definitely Dhinakaran knew that Sasikala would do this, our party (AMMK) cadres were with her when she unveiled the plaque naming herself general secretary,” a close aide of Dhinakaran told ThePrint. 

Decoding the politics unfurling in the southern state, head of department of political science at Chennai’s Presidency College, P. Muthukumar, explained that, at present, anything could happen regarding AIADMK and Sasikala. 

“She may try capitalising on the rift between EPS and OPS and there is a possibility that OPS can move over to the Sasikala camp,” he explained.

He also said that the politics was more deep-rooted and went beyond just party positions. 

“Edappadi, who is the head of the party, comes from the Gounder caste, which is also the AIADMK stronghold in western Tamil Nadu. While Sasikala is from the Mukkulathor Thevar community. Many AIADMK leaders who are from the Gounder caste now may not want to be led by a Thevar leader,” he explained.

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: AIADMK ally PMK walks out ahead of Tamil Nadu local body polls, accused of eyeing DMK tie-up


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