Over six months after a bitter split, rival AIADMK factions on Monday merged following a power sharing arrangement under which K Palaniswami will remain the chief minister and O Panneerselvam will be his deputy.
Panneerselvam will also be the AIADMK coordinator while Palaniswami will be the co-coordinator of the ruling party in Tamil Nadu. The cabinet reshuffle took place after weeks of hard bargaining by factions led by the two leaders who have questioned Sasikala’s appointment as party general secretary.
Her loyalists continued to maintain that party cadres are with Sasikala, who is in jail in a graft case, even as the fate of the sidelined leader and her nephew Dhinakaran in the party remained uncertain.
Palaniswami arrived first at the party office on Monday. Panneerselvam came a bit later, his first visit after almost seven months. Both were given a rousing reception by party cadres who swarmed the party headquarters and lined up along the road leading to the premises.
The factional feud began in February after Panneerselvam revolted against Sasikala. The former chief minister had said that he was forced to resign from his post and asserted that only a person desired by people and cadres should succeed him in the government and party.
Panneerselvam was immediately sacked from the top party post of treasurer, marking the birth of the rebel AIADMK (Puratchi Thalaivi Amma) faction.
Subsequently, Sasikala named Palaniswami as Legislature Party Leader as she herself had to go to Bengaluru to serve a prison sentence following her conviction in the disproportionate assets case.
Soon, Palaniswami took over as chief minister and his government was ridiculed as a proxy of Sasikala by rebel Panneerselvam and opposition parties led by the DMK.
In April this year, in a political twist, Tamil Nadu Cabinet gave indications of sidelining Sasikala and Dhinakaran.
Palaniswami gradually emerged as leader of a faction of about 122 MLAs in the 234-member assembly.
The OPS camp had nine MLAs, including himself.
Palaniswami and his Cabinet colleagues took a stand against Dhinakaran in April for the first time after bypoll to RK Nagar bypoll constituency, represented by late Jayalalithaa, was cancelled.
They were also on the same page after Dhinarakan was named in a case of trying to bribe Election Commission officials during April.
Further hardening the stand against Dhinakaran, an August 10 meeting chaired by Palaniswami said his appointment went against party byelaws, setting the stage for a formal merger.
Following it up, the government also announced an inquiry into Jayalalithaa’s death and declared that Amma’s Poes Garden residence would be taken over and turned into a memorial.
By conceding these key demands of the Panneerselvam camp, the process of unification got a fresh impetus and following several rounds of deliberations, the merger came through.
The development will bring some relief to supporters of the AIADMK, which came to power in May 2016 and has been struggling to keep its pack together following the death of party supremo Jayalalithaa in December last year.