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Explainer: Why Sasikala is facing opposition in attempting a return to AIADMK

·5-min read

One of the two dominant Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK seems to be in the churns of a lasting change yet again.

And as if the silent power tussle between former chief ministers Edappadi K Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam (OPS) has not been damaging enough, the party, which has survived repeated upheavals since the death of its charismatic chief J Jayalalithaa in December 2016, now faces a third force that has entered the play.

The latest turmoil has been triggered by the fact that VK Sasikala, Jayalalithaa's aide who was thrown out of the AIADMK after a bitter battle for control over the party, is seeking to return to politics. She is rumoured to have sent feelers within the AIADMK for a possible turn of tables.

What started the murmurs of Sasikala's return

Audiotapes of a purported conversation between Sasikala and certain members of the AIADMK was released to media, including on Jaya TV, over which she now exerts control but was once the AIADMK mouthpiece under Jayalalithaa.

Sasikala, who was ousted from the AIADMK, in a clip, stated she would have retained Panneerselvam as chief minister had he not stepped down in February 2017.

She also slammed the party for expelling 17 members €" most of whom were said to have talked with her €" including spokesman V Pugazhendhi.

In the clip, Sasikala was purportedly heard saying that she has the responsibility to save the party and re-establish the rule of 'Amma' (referring to late chief minister J Jayalalithaa).

"I am confident that I will be able to set the party in order as you are with me. The AIADMK should be strong even if it turns 100 years old. We will definitely bring in Amma's rule," she said.

Also, she said that she would meet the party workers once the pandemic recedes.

"Till then, take care of yourselves and your families, besides those around. Be safe, wear face masks," she urged.

"Party members are important to me. I will definitely return," she added.

However, from former Tamil Nadu chief minister Palaniswami to former minister C Ponnaiyan, several AIADMK leaders have denied the possibility of Sasikala's re-entry into the party.

Why Sasikala faces resistance in AIADMK

Even though Sasikala has had separate feuds with both Palaniswami and Panneersekvam in the aftermath of Jayalalithaa's death, the primary resistance, comes from Palaniswami and his supporters, who have been vocally shutting down any rumours about Sasikala's return.

Panneerselvam, the number two in the party right now, has chosen to keep his cards close to the chest.

The reasons are obvious.

It is Palaniswami, the Leader of the Opposition and the top boss in the party, who has the most to lose from Sasikala's return. But there's also some history to the bitterness between them.

After Jayalalithaa's death, it was Panneerselvam who had led an open revolt in the party questioning Sasikala's authority at a time she was all but poised to take over the reins of the party and the state.

He was the caretaker chief minister in Amma's stead and was later handed over the charge after her death. However, quit the chief minister's post in February 2017, stating that he was forced to resign.

Palaniswami, on the other hand, is the man she chose as chief minister before she was sent to Bengaluru prison in early 2017 in a disproportionate asset case.

Throughout the drama following Panneerselvam's rebellion, Palaniswami unflinchingly backed Sasikala, attacking OPS and gathering AIADMK MLAs around to support her.

"She trusted him immensely. He was tasked to handle the resources of AIADMK. But he became the main hurdle to her return to the party after her release from prison," a source close to Sasikala told The Indian Express.

A reference to this 'betrayal' was also made by Sasikala herself in one of the 'leaked' audio clips of purported conversation between her and an AIADMK cadre.

"Everyone backstabbed me. There is no more space left on my back to be stabbed anymore," Sasikala told a cadre.

"But how can I be a mute spectator if they do this to cadres also?" she is heard asking.

Palaniswami, also known as EPS, has emphatically stated that the party's stand is that Sasikala and her family have no place in the party.

In early June, denouncing the "bid to create confusion" in the party by leaking audio clips (in which Sasikala indicated that she would revive attempts to regain control of AIADMK), Palaniswami, the party co-coordinator, said such attempts would not succeed.

"Sasikala is not a member of the AIADMK and has no links whatsoever to the party. I myself and AIADMK deputy coordinator KP Munuswamy have already made this amply clear," he told reporters at the party headquarters on 4 June.

OPS vs EPS: Who gains, and who loses from Sasikala's return

The former Tamil Nadu chief minister also told reporters that he had no differences with Panneerselvam. "We have no differences of opinion. You (press) magnify it (the allegation) for the sake of sensationalism," he said.

On the other hand, OPS has much to gain from the situation of utter confusion and chaos within the AIADM. It may present him with an opportunity to exert more power after he had to settle at the number two post.

Various media reports have quoted unnamed sources to point out that Panneerselvam had apparently softened his stance on Sasikala's entry twice just before elections. But Palaniswami, who enjoys more support in the party, prevailed over him.

Perhaps, Palaniswami sensed the same. The party meeting in which Palaniswami was elected the Leader of Opposition, Panneerselvam was made the deputy leader of the Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Assembly.

"It is clear that Palaniswami has the majority of supporters in the party and OPS barely has any support. But for now, they have a 50 percent power-sharing of the 33 percent votes," political commentator Raveendran Duraisamy told Hindustan Times.

"Panneerselvam will not let that go and neither will want an issue with the party symbol if they split and it freezes. Sasikala has no political capital. She is now a paper tigress."

With inputs from PTI

Also See: Explained: Sasikala indicates AIADMK return imminent; what this means for party, EPS, OPS

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