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As Trouble Brews in AIADMK, a Power More Potent Than Sasikala is Hell Bent on Keeping Her Out

With Palanisamy adopting resolutions against Sasikala and AIADMK deputy general secretary Dinakaran, all eyes are now on the Panneerselvam camp for a possible merger.

O. Panneerselvam (from left), V.K. Sasikala and Edappadi K. Palanisamy. Credit: PTI

O. Panneerselvam (from left), V.K. Sasikala and Edappadi K. Palanisamy. Credit: PTI

Chennai: What began a few days after former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa was laid to rest at Marina beach has now come full circle – to a buckling, groveling fruition. The late chief minister, a powerful leader of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), who had come to power for the second consecutive term in May 2016, passed away on December 5 after being hospitalised for 75 days in Chennai.

Four days later, the Income Tax department began a raid in T. Nagar – the heart of Chennai. This search of sand mining baron Sekhar Reddy’s property yielded a haul of Rs 96.89 crores in cash of demonetised notes, Rs 9.63 crores in brand new currency and 127 kilograms of gold worth around Rs 36 crores. The next day, another Rs 24 crores was found by the IT department in the new Rs 2,000 currency.

The Enforcement Directorate as well as the CBI came down hard on him and by December 20, Reddy and two of his associates were in jail on charges of money laundering. In May, Reddy managed to get bail.

But why is Reddy key to the political developments in Tamil Nadu that have unfolded since? It is because Reddy is also the one who can implicate a number of ministers in the Jayalalithaa cabinet since 2011.

Through his firms JSR Infra and SRS Mining, Reddy had managed to become a conduit for various illegal activities for a number of political bigwigs, including Jayalalithaa and V.K. Sasikala, according to sources within government. For this, he was rewarded with a large number of government highway contracts, like the widening of the East Coast Road, and had a stranglehold over river sand mining contracts in Vellore, Kanchipuram and many other districts of the state.

The plethora of highway contracts was awarded when current chief minister Edappadi K. Palanisamy was the minister in charge of roads and highways in the Jayalalithaa cabinet. Similarly, a large number of sand quarrying contracts were awarded during the term of O. Panneerselvam, who was at the time a minister for public works in the Jayalalithaa government. Panneerselvam is also a former chief minister of the state.

Palanisamy and Panneerselvam have both repeatedly denied charges of any involvement with Reddy.

The near mutiny

Panneerselvam was the first to raise the flag of revolt within the AIADMK in February. Following his resignation as chief minister and the elevation of Jayalalithaa’s close aide Sasikala as the general secretary of the party, Panneerselvam meditated at Jaya’s memorial for 40 minutes and announced, amid high drama, that Sasikala had “forced” him to resign and that he could not accept her leadership. Panneerselvam subsequently made his proximity and favour with Prime Minister Narendra Modi obvious, meeting him frequently despite not being much more than an MLA.

Sasikala, who staked claim to become the chief minister, was kept in waiting by the BJP-appointed governor in charge C. Vidyasagar Rao until the Supreme Court’s verdict in the disproportionate assets case was announced. Sasikala, her sister-in-law J. Ilavarasi and nephew V.N. Sudhakaran were sentenced to four years in jail, and a fine of Rs 5 crore was imposed on each of them. They are currently serving time in the Parappana Agrahara prison in Bengaluru.

Chief ministerial ambitions dashed, Sasikala swiftly installed her loyalist Palanisamy as the chief minister and another nephew T.T.V. Dinakaran as the deputy general secretary of the party, ensuring that the reins of power continued to be in her hands.

A second alarm went off for the BJP-led central government when Jayalalithaa’s R.K. Nagar seat fell vacant and bypolls were conducted in April. While Dinakaran was announced as the AIADMK (Amma) candidate, Panneerselvam moved the Election Commission (EC) demanding that his team be allotted the AIADMK’s ‘two leaves’ symbol. The symbol remains frozen, awaiting the EC’s verdict on the same.

At the time, the polls appeared a breeze for Dinakaran, as money flowed lavishly in the hamlets and middle-class neighbourhoods of R.K. Nagar. Whispers arose that once he won, Dinakaran would stake claim to the chief minister’s post. The Centre’s hand rose once again. The R.K. Nagar bypoll was cancelled indefinitely due to the largescale bribing of voters.

With Dinakaran’s old FERA cases being dug up along with a fresh case against him for attempting to bribe the EC for the two leaves symbol, he too was jailed in Tihar in May. He, however, was released on bail by June.

What followed was a sudden twist in the tale.

Palanisamy, along with 26 of his legislators, met at the AIADMK party headquarters in Chennai on August 10 and released a set of resolutions on the party letterhead. The document stated that the appointment of Dinakaran as deputy general secretary of the party was made against the AIADMK’s bylaws. It also told the cadre that Dinakaran’s directives would not be binding on anyone in the party.

A few hours later, Dinakaran, at his relative’s residence in Thanjavur, held a press meet questioning the validity of the announcements made by the chief minister and his team. “There is no AIADMK now but these resolutions have been issued on AIADMK letterhead. Is it valid?” he asked reporters there.

Dinakaran also warned that he would not be averse to conducting a ‘surgical cleansing’ within the party and pointed out that those who had been appointed by Sasikala had betrayed her. “Madiyil ganam irunthaal nenjil bayam irukkum,” he said, meaning that if there is a burden or a weight on someone, there will be fear in their hearts. Despite being pressed on what he meant by “burden,”, Dinakaran refused to elaborate on whether it was pressure from the Centre with Reddy as its weapon that had made the second group of ministers and MLAs revolt.

Panneerselvam cautiously welcomed the move, although reiterating that talks for a merger of the two factions would only materialise once their two demands were met – that Sasikala and her entire family be expelled from the AIADMK and a CBI enquiry be initiated into the death of Jayalalithaa.

While the Panneerselvam camp no doubt has the support of the majority of the cadre, it is Dinakaran and Sasikala who hold the purse strings of the party. As for Palanisamy, his political survival probably depends on whether he chooses to side with the Centre or his mentor.