In roughly two months since he fired the first shot against VK Sasikala on the sprawling sands of Marina Beach in Chennai, rebel AIADMK leader O Panneerselvam (OPS) seems to be winning his battle. By all indications, his section of the party and the bigger ruling faction are likely to close ranks in a day.
At least for the time being, TTV Dinakaran, Sasikala’s nephew, who had himself planted at the top of the AIADMK as its deputy general secretary when his aunt went to jail in Bengaluru for corruption, will be ousted. Sasikala is unlikely to be touched for two reasons: First, she is in jail and cannot meddle with the party on a daily basis; and second, a number of MLAs cannot simply abandon their loyalty to her.
In the public eye, an apparently virtuous OPS, who rose to some sort of star status by defying Sasikala’s hegemony, will win and all will be well with the AIADMK; but in reality, it will be the BJP — that has been pulling the strings from Delhi — that wins. Without the BJP, OPS wouldn’t have rebelled and sustained himself this long, let alone won the battle.
The sudden tipping point for the merger of the two factions is a strange case registered against Dinakaran by the crime branch of the Delhi Police on Monday. Reportedly, an FIR has been filed against him for attempting to bribe the Election Commission officials to reclaim the disputed “two-leaves” symbol of the AIADMK. The Election Commission had frozen the symbol because both the OPS and Sasikala factions had laid claim to it.
The case was the last nail in Dinakaran’s political coffin because he was already buried in unprecedented ignominy when the Election Commission cancelled a by-election in a Chennai constituency (RK Nagar) — where he was seeking a place in the state Assembly — on charges of bribing the voters.
Although Tamil Nadu is endemic to the cash-for-votes syndrome, what RK Nagar witnessed was rather unparalleled; reportedly, the Income Tax Department has estimated that around Rs 89 crore was spent by the AIADMK to pay-off voters. A failed attempt to buy votes and another failed attempt to buy back the election symbol were too burdensome for the Sasikala faction that had already hit rock bottom in the popularity charts.
Apparently, many in the Sasikala camp are now worried about possible raids against them and the collapse of their party if they continue their loyalty with the family. The only option before them is what the BJP would like a patch up with OPS, which incidentally means sacrificing Dinakaran. They might agree for some softness on Sasikala as a face-saver.
With Sasikala in jail and Dinakaran out of the job, the AIADMK will be ridden with multiple caste and loyalty-driven factions. And that is an ideal setting for a compromise, at least among the most prominent factional leaders such as OPS, chief minister Edappadi Palaniswamy and MP M Thambidurai. Sasikala is unlikely to be touched any time now, but her influence will certainly wane.
This forced purge will also resonate well with the supporters of the AIADMK and the general public. Sasikala was never a natural choice of the party supporters, neither was she a nominee of Jayalalithaa; but she took control of the party by virtue of her influence over the MLAs and other leaders. By her own admission, she had been involved in the party leadership affairs even during Jayalalithaa’s time. It’s an open secret that most of the MLAs got their seats through her and her family.
Although one cannot find fault with the Centre for being extra vigilant in the RK Nagar constituency and unearthing the cash-for-votes scam, the case to bribe the EC appears a little far-fetched. The person who has accused Dinakaran of engaging him to bribe the EC officials is an amateur fraudster involved in minor scams of duping people and running away with their money.
Even if Dinakaran really harboured the bizarre idea of bribing the EC, he is unlikely to hire a petty conman. But a prima facie case has been made out against him, a summons has been issued and he can be arrested any time.
The fate of Dinakaran in the EC bribery case will be the biggest giveaway of the BJP’s involvement in the affairs of the AIADMK. If the case goes cold, one can be certain that it was indeed a pressure tactic. If he gets arrested, then there’s something more.
Under normal circumstances, Sasikala’s incarceration would have been enough; but she and her family were tenacious. But, with Dinakaran too coming under raucous fire, the family’s plot has fallen apart. This time they are almost certain to lose control. (Originally published in firstpost.com. Reproduced with prior permission)