3 strikes for OPS: Why 3-time Tamil Nadu CM was ousted from AIADMK by popular demand

As OPS and EPS ‘expel’ each other, the AIADMK’s ally the BJP says it won't interfere, and instead work to spread its footprint in the state.

ByAnusha Ravi Sood

Published Jul 12, 2022 | 12:44 AMUpdatedJul 25, 2022 | 2:08 PM

AIADMK general council meeting where OPS was expelled

The fight for control over the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) drew blood on Monday—literally and figuratively.

Violent clashes between supporters of former Tamil Nadu chief ministers O Panneerselvam (OPS) and Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) at the AIADMK headquarters in Chennai on 11 July were the last straw for the former, as party leaders put it.

As visuals of OPS’ supporters vandalising the AIADMK headquarters hit TV screens, the party general council decided to expel O Panneerselvam and his aides R Vaithilingam, Manoj Pandian and JCD Prabhakaran. Heads had rolled.

“There was no intention of ousting OPS but the way he led his supporters to beat up our office-bearers, indulge in violence and take away files from the headquarters left us with no choice,” Ma Foi K Pandiarajan, former minister, told South First.

Ma Foi Pandiarajan was among the group of AIADMK leaders who stood by OPS in 2017. Five years down the line, not one of the 11 MPs and 12 MLAs who was with OPS during his ‘Dharmayudham’ are supporting him, Ma Foi added.

In 2017, a majority of the AIADMK leadership and cadres took to backing OPS, inspired by his rebellion against V K Sasikala—a close aide of J Jayalalithaa who had taken over the reins of the party after the former chief minister’s death.

OPS-AIADMK fallout

Once considered Jayalalithaa’s trusted aide, a three-time chief minister who moved AIADMK cadres with his ‘Dharmayudham’ and an influential leader across the state, OPS was ousted for ‘anti-party’ activities.

Leaders of the AIADMK insist that the former chief minister had his “self-interest and insecurity” to blame. Party leaders and cadres point to three major follies that led to Panneerselvam’s fall from grace—self-interest, backing Sasikala and resorting to violence

“The 2019 elections in Theni for one Lok Sabha seat and two Assembly seats is a prime example of OPS putting self-interest before the party,” Ma Foi Pandiarajan said. OPS’ son P Ravindhranath Kumar won the Lok Sabha seat but the party lost the Andipatti and Periyakulam Assembly constituencies. “That is where cadres began detaching themselves from Panneerselvam. Today he probably has the support of just two MPs, maybe two MLAs out of 65 and barely five district secretaries. That doesn’t even account for 5 percent of the general council,” he added.

ADMK cadres at general council meeting

AIADMK cadres in Chennai celebrate the ascension of EPS (South First/Umar Sharieef)

Incidentally, it was Natham Viswanathan who moved the resolution to sack OPS in the general council meeting and KP Munusamy who demanded his ouster. Both were a prominent part of the OPS faction in 2017.

“In 2017, his stature increased in the eyes of the cadres because he took on Sasikala as part of his Dharmayudham. Cadres wanted her and her family including TTV Dhinakaran out. When this year he indicated that VK Sasikala should be allowed back to the party, the same cadres lost respect for him. It was great hypocrisy,” an office-bearer of the AIADMK told South First elaborating on OPS’ strike two.

On her part, Sasikala on Monday claimed that she was still the general secretary of the AIADMK and Palaniswami had no powers to sack OPS.

Last nail in coffin

Sacking OPS was not part of the agenda at Monday’s meeting, the AIADMK insists. Party leaders like D Jayakumar, C Ponnaiyan and CV Shanmugam claimed that the decision came about only after OPS’s “goons” vandalised the AIADMK office and assaulted cadres.

“Every single brick in the AIADMK office belongs to all of us, not an individual. Never did we expect Panneerselvam to supervise vandalism of the party headquarters,” another office-bearer who was present at the general council meeting said, explaining how watching the violence unfolding outside the office turned the ‘anger’ against OPS into ‘disgust’ among party workers.

“The AIADMK resolution to sack OPS was a last-minute addition. He, with the support of the DMK, indulged in anti-party activities. How else would one explain the fact that nobody stopped dozens of vandals from damaging AIADMK property and injuring cadres,” Ma Foi Pandiarajan sought to know.

Too crowded for two

‘A bad marriage that inevitably ended in a terrible divorce’- that’s how a senior office-bearer of the AIADMK described the ‘dual leadership’ arrangement of the party. The tussle over shifting the model to a ‘single-person leadership’ was the crux of the AIADMK’s internal strife.

EPS is the new AIADMK interim general secretary

A poster at the AIADMK general council meeting hailing EPS as the party’s leader (South First/Umar Sharieef)

Among the resolutions passed by the general council on Monday was to make EPS the sole leader of the AIADMK — he is now the interim general secretary. This is the first time since the death of Jayalalithaa that a leader — EPS — has enjoyed the support of a huge majority in the AIADMK.

“Dual leadership had bogged the party down with indecisiveness making cadres impatient. The call was only for single leadership. The cadres hadn’t even said it should be Edapaddi. OPS, out of anxiousness and insecurity that he may lose out to EPS, went to court,” an office-bearer of the AIADMK said, adding that it was another instance of the former chief minister putting self-interest before party.

The AIADMK’s ally in Tamil Nadu, the BJP, meanwhile has chosen to keep its head down and steer clear of controversy. “What is happening to the AIADMK is very unfortunate. Our alliance is with the institution called the AIADMK, but we will not interfere in their internal matters. We will work towards increasing our footprint,” CT Ravi, national general secretary of the BJP, told South First.

Three generations, three battles

In the 50 years of the party’s history, the AIADMK has seen three succession battles and struggles for control. Monday’s ouster and counter-ouster announcements by the EPS and OPS factions are only the latest.

Annadurai, MGR, Jayalalithaa, EPS cut-outs

Cut-outs of three generations of AIADMK leaders—MGR, Jayalalithaa and EPS—at the general council meeting. To the left is the cut-out of former Tamil Nadu CM C N Annadurai, after whom the party has been named (South First/Umar Sharieef)

Following the death of party founder MG Ramachandran aka MGR in December 1987, a succession battle broke out between his wife Janaki and Jayalalithaa.

It was not until February 1989 when the two factions suffered a humiliating defeat in the Assembly elections that the party reunited.

A succession battle arose once again after the death of Jayalalithaa in December 2016. First came the unanimous decision to appoint Jayalalithaa’s close aide VK Sasikala as general secretary of the party.

Then came a rebellion by OPS in February 2017 that he deemed as a “Dharmayudham”, followed by the elevation of EPS as chief minister by Sasikala, splitting the party into two.

By August 2017, the tables had turned with OPS and EPS agreeing to merge the party and expel Sasikala. This time around, it is OPS taking on the EPS faction again.

What is different this time, however, is the support EPS has gained since 2017 and the influence OPS has lost in the party.