Opinion: Will Sasikala unite the AIADMK or divide it? 

Kalyani Shankar

By Kalyani Shankar

Will V.K. Sasikala, the close aide of late Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalitha unite the AIADMK or divide it?  That is the question that is dogging the party, of late. The controversial leader, who announced that she would not dabble in politics six months ago, has been making waves in the AIADMK party in the past few days. ‘Chinnamma”, as she is called,  has come back to politics with a punchy slogan “Naam Ondraaga Vendum; Kazhagam Vendraaga Vendum’ (We have to be one, and we must win).

Her argument is that the party should have one leader at the top. Presently there are two leaders steering the party. She indicates that she is ready to take over.

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As the AIADMK slipped into its golden jubilee year on October 17, Sasikala, who was removed as the party’s interim general secretary four years ago, revealed her solid political plan. She vowed to register a massive win for the party in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections with her unity mantra.

The factionalism in the AIADMK has the potential to split the party vertically. Today, former chief minister E.Palaniswamy  (EPS )needs the party, but three times chief minister O.Panneerselvam (OPS) needs the party even more. Sasikala has concluded that she, too, needs the party. For nearly six months, ‘Chinnamma’ has been sending signals that she is eager to regain control of the AIADMK. So there is a fight among the three groups – EPS, OPS and Chinnamma.

The party is yet to put its house in order after losing the state assembly polls early this year. With its poor performance in the recently-conducted local body polls, some have started to feel that if Sasikala takes over, things will be set right and the dual leadership of OPS and EPS is not working. She also seems to have the blessings of the BJP. The EPS group naturally resists this violently. Though both EPS and OPS have vociferously said in the past that there is no place for Sasikala in the party, the OPS faction is wavering. It appears the OPS faction has become soft following her visit to console him after his wife’s death in September. OPS wants EPS out at any cost.

The question is, does Sasikala have the potential to divide the party vertically? EPS and OPS are presently the co-coordinator and coordinator of the party.  EPS is confident that as the dismissed leader, she has no role in the party after the party had collectively thrown her out in the aftermath of Jayalalithaa’s demise in 2017.

Last week Sasikala made no secret of her ambitions by claiming her place in the party, describing herself as the General Secretary. She is bidding for control of the party after paying homage at the memorials of MGR and Jayalalithaa on the AIADMK’s golden jubilee on October 17.

Commenting on Sasikala’s move  Party coordinator OPS has recalled how he had announced long ago that he, along with EPS, as joint coordinator, would discuss the issue with other senior leaders before deciding on the fate of Sasikala. That has raised eyebrows. Speaking obviously for the EPS faction, former minister Jayakumar recalled how OPS had launched a ‘dharma yudh’ against Sasikala. Presently it is EPS who has the upper hand. The EPS group has  63 MLAs in the present Assembly, OPS could not mobilise such support in his southern belt. OPS is waiting for an opportunity to gain back his predominant position. Sasikala has come in handy. After all, both belong to the same Thevar  community while EPS belongs to the Gounder community.

Sasikala has become a new headache for EPS. AIADMK’s ally BJP has favoured the unity of the party including Sasikala but EPS and OPS had rejected it before the Assembly polls.

Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran had launched his outfit AMMK after he and his aunt were dismissed from the party  in 2017. The AMMK  polled a  5.5 per cent vote of the AIADMK’s in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, but this got reduced to 2.5 per cent in the assembly elections this year. When AMMK believed Sasikala could take over the party after she came out of prison in February, she disappointed them by declaring that she would decide her political future only after the Assembly polls. Now she has revealed that wants AIADMK as a whole and not head a small outfit like AMMK.

Sasikala knows that without the party’s support, she cannot survive. There is no doubt that the AIADMK is up for grabs  because of the ego clashes among the three leaders. While Sasikala is about 70, the other two  contenders are much younger to her.  But she has money power and muscle power and knows the party inside out. She has started early before the 2024 polls and might have enough time. We have to wait and see who moves the pawn in the chess board to win.

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