At a time when the Supreme Court and the Election Commission are yet to decide on the leadership tussle between Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) and O Panneerselvam (OPS) in the AIADMK, the Union government’s invitation to the former and his subsequent participation in the G-20 preparatory chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 5 December, has come as a shot in the arm for his camp.
No invite was sent to OPS.
The move assumes significance because, so far, the BJP was careful not to be seen as taking sides in the AIADMK’s internal problems.
For example, though the EPS faction expelled OP Raveendranath, the sole AIADMK Lok Sabha MP and son of OPS, from the party, the Speaker of the Lower House is yet to de-recognise him as an MP belonging to the AIADMK, despite requests from the party.
However, when it came to inviting presidents/heads of various political parties having representation in Parliament for the G20 preparatory meeting, Union Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Prahlad Joshi acknowledged EPS as the leader of AIADMK, instead of OPS.
According to AIADMK sources, when EPS expressed his inability to join the meeting as J Jayalalithaa’s death anniversary fell on the same day, the BJP-led Centre apparently insisted he attend the meeting.
Accordingly, EPS left for New Delhi immediately after paying his tributes to the late AIADMK supremo on Monday.
OPS objects to invitation
The invitation extended to EPS, naturally, was strongly objected to by expelled AIADMK leader OPS.
He wrote to Prahlad Joshi in his capacity as the “Coordinator of AIADMK”, stating that he was the “validly elected head of the AIADMK” and reminded the Union minister that the leadership dispute was still pending before the Election Commission and the apex court.
He also went on to claim that actions of few leaders to install EPS as the interim general secretary of the party was against the by-laws of the AIADMK, and demanded that the invitation extended to EPS be rescinded and that further communication be avoided with EPS in his “so-called” capacity as interim AIADM general secretary.
What explains invite to EPS?
When asked about the move by the Union government, a senior national-level BJP leader who spoke to South First said that the Government recognised EPS as the leader of AIADMK party because he has the support of most MLAs and MPs.
“It was a meeting called by the government of India. It was not a BJP event where we could invite both the leaders (EPS and OPS). Since it was a discussion with heads of political parties, EPS was invited from the AIADMK because he enjoys support of the majority of the party MLAs, MPs and district secretaries,” the BJP leader said.
A Tamil Nadu BJP leader whom South First spoke to also gave a similar reasoning.
According to political analyst Sumanth C Raman, one other possible reason why the BJP-led government invited EPS for the meeting was because the latter’s supporters were miffed with how Prime Minister Modi met both EPS and OPS at the Madurai airport during his recent visit to the state, to suggest that both leaders were equal.
“I was told that the EPS camp was upset over how the PM met both EPS and OPS together at the airport. So probably the invite to EPS was a way to counter that criticism. This game will go on for a few more months where they try to keep both leaders happy. But they wouldn’t want EPS to get too powerful,” he explained.
‘It is only natural that EPS was invited’
Speaking to South First, senior AIADMK leader D Jayakumar said that it was only natural that EPS was invited for the G20 preparatory meeting as leader of AIADMK.
“Nobody else can claim to be the leader of the AIADMK when the General Council unanimously elected EPS as the interim general secretary. All the proceedings were based on the by-laws of the party. OPS can keep saying anything he wants, but everyone knows that we (EPS camp) are the real AIADMK.”
‘Invite a technical mistake’
Members of the OPS camp, however, termed the invite to EPS a “technical mistake”.
“Maybe Union Minister Prahlad Joshi isn’t fully aware about what’s happening in the AIADMK. Senior leader Thambidurai misled him into believing that EPS is the leader of the party. Even though the invitation to EPS is completely wrong, it does not signify anything because only the Supreme Court and the Election Commission can determine who the real leader of AIADMK is, not the government of India,” OPS supporter Pugazhendhi told South First.