AIADMK factions unite, Panneerselvam settles for Deputy CM



Six months after a bitter parting of ways following then Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa's death, the two factions of the AIADMK merged on Monday with rebel leader O. Panneerselvam becoming the Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister and AIADMK Coordinator even as the party decided to sack the now jailed V.K. Sasikala as General Secretary.

Panneerselvam, who was twice Chief Minister when Jayalalithaa was jailed and again after she died in December, also got back his Finance portfolio besides Housing, Rural Housing and Housing Development. He quit as Chief Minister the last time in February after differences with Sasikala, a long-time Jayalalithaa aide.

Immediately after the merger, Pannerselvam was sworn in as Deputy Chief Minister along with his supporter K. Pandiarajan, who was made Minister for Archaeology, Tamil Language and Tamil Culture at a brief ceremony for which Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao flew in from Mumbai. Pandiarajan was earlier the Minister for Higher Education. 

With the foe-turned-friend Chief Minister K. Palaniswami by his side, Pannerselvam signed the files at Raj Bhavan.

The merger of the two factions came after weeks of hectic parleys, overcoming the acrimony and last-minute tough conditions set by the Panneerselvam group which insisted on an announcement about Sasikala's removal. She is now in a Bengaluru jail for corruption. 

AIADMK sources said the BJP played a role in the coming together of the two factions though officially that party has denied this. The merged AIADMK is poised to join the NDA and could become a part of the Modi government. 

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

The Chief Minister will be the Joint Coordinator while Panneerselvam faction leader K.P. Munuswami and Palaniswami faction leader and MP Vaithyalingam will be the Deputy Coordinators. An 11-member Guidance Committee will steer the merged AIADMK, he said.

Vaithyalingam, who spoke against family rule at the event, announced that the AIADMK General Council will meet soon to remove Sasikala, who was appointed General Secretary by the same body after Jayalalithaa died on December 5 last year. 

Veteran leader C. Ponnaiyan said that appointment was illegal as the General Secretary can only be elected by the party's primary members.

Speaking at the party headquarters, Panneerselvam said differences between the two groups had been sorted out and the leaders had come together to protect the government and the legacy of the late MGR and Jayalalithaa.

"We cannot remain divided. We are all children of Jayalalithaa. And what we are doing is in keeping with the interest of people of Tamil Nadu and 1.5 crore cadre of the AIADMK," he said, calling it a historic merger.

He thanked Chief Minister Palaniswami for the merger. "I feel unburdened."

Welcoming the rival group, the Chief Minister thanked "elder brother" Paneerselvam for the unity which he said would realize the dreams of MGR and Jayalalithaa. 

The newly-appointed Deputy Coordinator Munuswami said the party should work without prejudices against leaders and cadres belonging to both former factions.

Meanwhile, the smaller faction headed by T.T.V. Dinakaran, Sasikala's nephew, has warned against his own and Sasikala's sacking as Deputy General Secretary and General Secretary of the AIADMK. 

Dinakaran is said to enjoy the support of a dozen MLAs. Leaders of the faction attacked both Panneerselvam and Palaniswami. Pugazhendi, President of the AIADMK's Karnataka unit, said the Dinakaran faction would not allow the government to continue.

After the merger ceremony, all the top leaders, including Panneerselvam and Palaniswami, drove to the memorials of Jayalalithaa, MGR and C.N. Annadurai, the first Chief Minister of the then undivided DMK, on the Marina beach.

Earlier, Panneerselvam was received enthusiastically at the party headquarters by AIADMK cadres who presented him stoles and bouquets. It was his first visit to the office after six months. Hundreds celebrated the occasion by bursting firecrackers. - IANS