When O Panneerselvam dramatically broke away from the ruling AIADMK in February following the takeover of the party by VK Sasikala and her family, he was expected to rise like a star, going by the goodwill that swelled in his support. However, in the hard battle of realpolitik that followed, he failed and was marginalised. All that he was left with was a rump of a big party, and a handful of MLAs and MPs.
Even the hardcore Sasikala supporters, who at the time of OPS's revolt appeared to be absolutely resolute, turned coat.
But on Tuesday, the tables suddenly turned. The same men and women who had ditched and derided him in favour of Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dinakaran, came running to him. This time, they said the party's rank and file, the legislators and the leaders, were unanimous in their view that a single family shouldn't control the AIADMK, and hence Sasikala and Dinakaran must go. Even hardcore Sasikala supporters, who at the time of OPS's revolt appeared to be absolutely resolute, have done a volte-face.
What's worse, the men who had originally requested Sasikala to become the party general secretary and the chief minister looked completely amnesiac, now singing the tune that the party, the unity of the cadres and the government were of prime importance.
Now, it's only a matter of time before the two factions of the AIADMK merges and OPS and his supporters get back to the parent party. All that OPS wanted was Sasikala and Dinakaran out of his sight and it has worked.
Now, it's only a matter of time before the two factions of the AIADMK merge and OPS and his supporters return to the parent party. Reportedly, the terms of merger and power sharing — as to who will be the chief minister and key office bearers — are being worked out and no roadblocks are anticipated. All that OPS had wanted was for Sasikala and Dinakaran to be out of his sight, and that has worked.
What happened over the last two days in Tamil Nadu is unprecedented in the history of Indian politics — the majority faction of a party that also has the advantage of being in government seeking merger with a much smaller minority faction. It couldn't have been only because of the goodwill and popular support that OPS still enjoyed, but something more — such as, a threat to their existence. And that threat came all the way from Delhi — from the Income Tax department and the Delhi Police.
With Sasikala in jail and Dinakaran facing arrest in Delhi, the faction that they lorded over suddenly seemed to have woken up to a dual threat: being headed by an unpopular absentee family and possibly pursuance by central agencies.
The Income Tax department stalled Dinakaran's efforts to get elected into the Tamil Nadu assembly through a by-election from a Chennai constituency (vacated upon the death of J Jayalalithaa) by unearthing a major cash-for-votes scam. The election was cancelled and several of his associates were raided. Within a few days, on Monday, the Delhi Police filed an FIR accusing him of attempting to bribe the Election Commission for reclaiming the party's two-leaves symbol that has been frozen following the split of the party. Delhi Police already has a co-accused in custody and Dinakaran's arrest seemed imminent.
With Sasikala in jail and Dinakaran facing arrest in Delhi, the faction that they lorded over suddenly seemed to have woken up to a dual threat — being headed by an unpopular absentee family and possible pursuance by central law enforcement agencies. Reportedly, during the raids in connection with the election scam, several documents incriminating some ministers and MLAs were seized. With their tracks exposed, they had no option but to seek protection.
Protection in this case meant jettisoning Sasikala and Dinakaran, and regrouping under OPS because he is the man with the Delhi connection. It is public knowledge that Delhi backed OPS to the hilt despite the resentment from some in the Taml Nadu BJP unit and leaders such as Subramanian Swamy.
Dinakaran's battle now is not politics, but mere survival.
Dinakaran clearly understands the plot and knows that he has no other option but to play along. On Wednesday, after seeing the en masse abandonment by the same people who stood behind him under the most testing times, he struck a note of reconciliation. He said he would abide by what the party wanted and wouldn't want to fight back or prove his strength in the party. He even said that he was not against any merger. Despite all the machinations that he and his aunt Sasikala had plotted to usurp power when OPS raised the banner of revolt, he meekly acceded to the bloodless midnight coup on Tuesday because he knew that his game was over and that he has to choose his battles. His battle now is not politics, but mere survival.
Dinakaran however did hint at a Delhi hand when he said that while he wasn't aware what cases the Centre had against the ministers, the latter seemed to be under some kind of fear.
On the other hand, OPS has never appeared this confident. In fact, despite the overwhelming popular support that he received from across the state, he had failed to gain any worthwhile momentum in the last two months. But what worked in his favour was Dinakaran's impatience to usurp more power by prematurely seeking election to the assembly and probably even harbouring ambitions of becoming the chief minister.
For all practical purposes, Dinakaran, who appeared to be in complete control during the highly turbulent vote of confidence drama, has no worthwhile friends now.
The mistakes he made in the process — the alleged attempts to bribe voters and allegedly engaging a history-sheeter to pay off the EC officials in Delhi — tripped him. All that the central agencies had to do was to lie in wait, act on his mistakes, and fire warning shots against his associates. In fact, it is exactly in situations such as this that the maxim that "in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies" — something Jayalalithaa used to repeat often — makes sense. For all practical purposes, Dinakaran, who appeared to be in complete control during the highly turbulent vote of confidence drama, has no worthwhile friends now. The same people who proposed his aunt's name as the General Secretary of the AIADMK are now saying that her election was in violation of party rules and hence she is a nobody in the party. Some of then are even saying that the real AIADMK is the one that OPS heads.
A handful of hardcore loyalist MLAs may still be willing to stake out with Dinakaran, but they do not stand a chance. Dinakaran now should be worried about keeping peace with the united AIADMK because having to deal with a hostile Centre and a hostile state simultaneously is going to be a nightmare. Ideally, he should have started the backroom process of reconciliation to keep himself, his aunt and the family out of trouble. They are very unpopular in Tamil Nadu.
Dinakaran now should be worried about keeping peace with the united AIADMK because having to deal with a hostile Centre and a hostile state simultaneously will be a nightmare.
Besides OPS, BJP's central leaders who stood by him must be happy because there couldn't have been a better script to suit their plans. They will now have an ally in India's third largest political party who they can ask for a chunk of seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Having a pliant OPS, who owes most of his success to the Centre, at the helm of affairs instead of a dismissive and imperious Jayalalithaa will give them more than a foothold.
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