BJP Still Controls AIADMK Despite EPS Emerging as Biggest Leader
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami. Image Courtesy: PTI
Edappadi K Palanisami (EPS) asserted himself as the party’s chief through AIADMK’s grand ezhuchi (rising) golden jubilee conference in Madurai on August 20. He used the occasion to demonstrate that he is the uncontested leader of the party following J Jayalalithaa.
Jayalalithaa rejuvenated the party by organising the silver jubilee conference in Tirunelveli and the AIADMK became a powerful force and a part of the Union government in 1998. Party leaders and cadres have similar expectations following the recent conference.
“Aided by the BJP, election commission and the courts, EPS has emerged successful. The next step is a show of power and a call for cadre strength—that is why the jamboree and large spending,” senior journalist RK Radhakrishnan told Newsclick about the AIADMK conference.
The golden jubilee was a show of strength after party leader and former chief minister O Panneerselvam’s (OPS) expulsion in September 2022. Palanisami was elected the party’s general secretary in March this year.
RISE OF EPS
Jayalalithaa’s death in 2016 caused confusion over who would lead the party—VK Sasikala, TTV Dhinakaran, Panneerselvam or Palanisami. After seven years, EPS has emerged as AIADMK’s leader.
Regarding the leadership tussle, Radhakrishnan said, “The BJP had to pick one of them. Sasikala was jailed for corruption and TTV acted funny with the BJP leadership. It was down to EPS and OPS, who neither had a vision for the party nor support. The BJP played divide-and-rule with them. But EPS rose above that and consolidated both the party and his position.”
Radhakrishnan added that OPS was “not aggressive in proving himself and the BJP is convinced that his hold over the party is over”.
Regarding Palanisami’s rise in the AIADMK, former Frontline editor Vijaya Shankar said that he “consolidated votes in the previous Assembly elections, which t gained him popularity within the party”.
“Hailing from the Kongu Vellalar community, EPS was able to consolidate the vote bank in western Tamil Nadu before the Assembly elections,” he said.
In the 2021 Assembly election, the AIADMK maintained its traditional sway in western Tamil Nadu, popularly known as Kongu Nadu, where the NDA won more than 70% of the constituencies.
“Additionally, introducing the 10.5% reservation for the Vanniyar community at the fag end of its tenure got the AIADMK the community’s support,” he said.
The previous AIADMK government passed the reservation under Palanisami just before the 2021 election notification was out.
‘NOT A WIN-WIN SITUATION’
However, it is not a win-win situation for Palanisami and the AIADMK, Shankar said.
“Reservations for Vanniyars made the Mukkulathor communities—Agamudayar, Kallar and Maravar—angry and upset with EPS because the internal reservations within the OBCs will impact these communities,” he said.
“Moreover, now that the court withholds the 10.5% reservation, the Vanniyars are drifting away from AIADMK,” he added.
In March 2022, the Supreme Court held that Tamil Nadu’s reservation for Vanniyars in education and employment within the Most Backward Classes category was unconstitutional.
“Though EPS has sidelined OPS, TTV and Sasikala, he must make a foray into southern Tamil Nadu, where the party’s rule was known as Thevar atchi (Thevar’s rule),” he said.
South Tamil Nadu is the stronghold of the powerful Thevar community to which Panneerselvam, Sasikala and Dhinakaran belong. By conducting a massive programme in Madurai, EPS conveyed a strong message to the party detractors.
“Yet how the TTV-OPS unity will turn out in the coming days depends on what the BJP has determined for them. They are lightweights. However, the Thevar angle could bring either of them or both closer to the AIADMK,” Radhakrishnan said.
The coming together of Dhinakaran and Panneerselvam is seen as a strategy to consolidate the Thevar vote bank ahead of the Lok Sabha election. “Some sections of Thevars are moving towards BJP,” said Shankar.
‘AIADMK IS SUBSIDIARY OF BJP’
Although Palanisami has emerged as the sole AIADMK leader, the BJP continues to control the party, according to Radhakrishnan.
“AIADMK is a fully-owned subsidiary company of the BJP. Like we have seen in other states, the BJP allies with a regional party and begins to eat into that party. Big AIADMK leaders—EPS, Thangamani, Velumani, Dindugal Srinivasan and others—have cases against them. But the Enforcement Directorate will not come after them nor will the cases come up for hearing,” he said.
Yet the Madurai gathering is seen as an opportunity to send a strong message to the party’s opponents and its ally BJP, with which it has had a rocky relationship in the past few months.
Radhakrishnan said, “The AIADMK is a very strong opposition. It is the second-largest party in the state and has the power to challenge the DMK without the BJP. In fact, the AIADMK is more powerful without the BJP. The Centre is coming down strongly on Tamil Nadu and the Tamil language. People are aware of this. Therefore, an AIADMK without the BJP is stronger.”
However, he said that the AIADMK will not win the upcoming election despite being strong.
Shankar said, “The BJP is trying out experiments as they have nothing to lose. The AIADMK’s weakening will be DMK’s win. Besides, [MK] Stalin’s schemes are working well. Women are happy with ticketless bus rides and the magalir urimai thogai will also have a silent impact.”
Despite the AIADMK-BJP tension, their alliance is expected to continue in the 2024 Lok Sabha election with both parties relying on each other for various reasons.
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