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AIADMK merger row: Twists, turns and manoeuvers in Tamil Nadu’s fertile ground of political opportunism

Over six months after a bitter split, rival AIADMK factions merged Monday following a power-sharing arrangement under which K Palaniswami will remain the chief minister and O Panneerselvam will be his deputy. Panneerselvam, who was twice chief minister when Jayalalithaa was jailed and again after she died in December, will also get back his finance portfolio. He had quit as chief minister the last time in February following differences with Sasikala, a long-time Jayalalithaa aide.

The merger of the two factions came after weeks of hectic parleys, overcoming the acrimony and a last-minute tough bargaining by the Panneerselvam group which insisted on an announcement about Sasikala’s removal. She is now in a Bengaluru jail after she was sentenced to four years in a disproportionate assets case.

The much-awaited coming together of the two factions was announced at a function at the AIADMK headquarters where Palaniswami disclosed the changes within the party.

The chief minister will be the joint coordinator while Panneerselvam faction leader KP Munuswami and Palaniswami faction leader and MP Vaithyalingam will be the deputy coordinators. However, the fact that neither leader is willing to give full control of the party or the government to the other shows that the distrust runs deep.

After much debate and deliberation, when the merger was finally announced, it was mildly surprising that an earlier unrelenting Panneerselvam had ceded ground on most issues of conflict.

Eager to reach a compromise to retain power, the two factions have, for now, struck a unique deal. The two party stalwarts, each keen to inherit Jayalalithaa’s legacy at one time, have worked out a formula to play second fiddle to each other alternatively in the party and the government.

Panneerselvam, a three-time chief minister, and Jayalalithaa’s trusted aide will now play second fiddle to Palaniswamy, a first-time chief minister who was ironically propped up by Sasikala, who was the reason Panneerselvam rebelled against his own party.

Although Panneerselvam was able to negotiate some control over the party as coordinator of AIADMK, the command that he may actually wield over the party also remains questionable.

The post of joint coordinator, to be occupied by the chief minister, comes closely behind Panneerselvam’s official designation of AIADMK coordinator. It would be unsurprising if Palaniswamy, who is the face of the government and who exercises the right to allocate plush cabinet portfolios, in practice wields more control over the party MLAs than Panneerselvam.

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