The power struggle in the AIADMK is set for a dramatic denouement tomorrow as the general council of the party is set to meet despite all-out efforts by the O Panneerselvam (OPS) faction to scuttle it, including a last-minute appeal to the court to intervene.

It all started with OPS and a few leaders close to him opposing the suggestion by supporters of Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) to switch to a single leadership structure against the current dual-head model. A majority of leaders including close to 70 district secretaries of the party (out of total 75) have thrown their weight behind EPS, the Co-Coordinator, and want him to take over the reins of the party.

The swiftness with which the balance of power has completely shifted in favour of EPS has surprised many political observers, some of whom are also wondering whether OPS, the Coordinator of the party, has failed to see the writing on the wall.

Sumanth C Raman, a political analyst, does not think so. “OPS, indeed, saw it coming. Only thing is he did not know ‘when’. 

According to Raman, in many ways, the leadership crisis in AIADMK was precipitated by the perception that AIADMK has ceded the ground to BJP, under the very vocal and very visible Annamalai, as an effective Opposition. “On many occasions, the AIADMK came out with a press release (on important issues) only 3 days later as views of both leaders had to be incorporated and both had to sign,” he says.

Raman adds that the options before OPS are limited.

“With the other side ready to placate him, he can accept and settle for a margdarshak mandal kind of a role on the lines of the Presidium Chairman post. That way, he will also have some say in his son’s political prospects. Remember, he (P Ravindranath, who is a member of Parliament) is not an established politician yet. The other option is to join Sasikala & Co, file a case and rock the boat. But AMMK (headed by Sasikala’s nephew Dinakaran) and others have fought three elections so far, without any success. So, walking away from the party will be end of the road for OPS.”

‘Give cadres the power’

Though a majority of office-bearers seem to have rallied behind EPS in the battle for undisputed leadership, the party’s supremo can only be elected by primary members and not the General Council says KC Palanisamy, a former member of Parliament, who was expelled from the party a few years ago. 

“In the case that I had filed (Two Leaves symbol case), the Delhi High Court had clearly said the rights of the cadres [to choose the leadership] cannot be taken away. So they cannot appoint the General Council members themselves, who in turn will vote for them for the top post. Let them announce election and allow people who were primary members at the time of Jayalalithaa’s death to contest. Then anybody with real support of the cadres can win. What EPS is doing now is what Sasikala tried and failed. So at best, in tomorrow’s meeting, they can change the bylaws to revive the post of General Secretary. But only the cadres should choose the leader.”

But will OPS’ relegation to the sidelines further upset the caste-equation in the party?

Says Raman: “OPS, being a Maravar, anyways has not delivered the Mukkulathor community vote for the AIADMK (the other two sub-sects of the community are Kallar and Agamudaiyar). The Assembly polls results bear testimony to this. But if OPS is treated disrespectfully by the EPS faction, then the community may react. Also, EPS (who belongs to the Kongu Vellalar Gounder community, another powerful grouping) has to reach out to people from other communities who have been expelled to broadbase his support.”

Palanisamy echoes the sentiment. “If the cadres feel that the party is coming under the domination of Gounders and Vanniyars, they will definitely join other parties.” 

‘Set for smooth transition’

Ma Foi K. Pandiarajan, a former Minister in EPS’s Cabinet, however, sees the stand-off fizzling out. “Every crisis brings with it opportunities. The issue of unitary leadership came up because we felt the need for ideological coherence and swiftness of response in our fight with political opponents. This naturally led to a democratic debate with a 90:10 split among leaders in favour of EPS. With OPS also now confirming that he will attend tomorrow’s general council meeting, the stage has been set for a smooth leadership transition which we are naturally proud of.”