WHEN AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha Jayaram expelled the party's popular deputy general secretary S. Thirunavukkarasu for hobnobbing with 'enemies' (read DMK and Tamil Maanila Congress), she may not have expected such a strong reaction. On May 22, the party suffered a vertical split as Thirunavukkarasu paraded seven of the 14 AIADMK Rajya Sabha MPs at a press conference at his residence who denounced his expulsion and expressed their loyalty to him.
After introducing the MPs--Thambi Venkatachalam, S. Austin, P. Sundararajan, N. Rajendran, N. Thangaraj Pandian, V. Rajan Chellappa and D. Mastaan--Thirunavukkarasu said he had sent a requisition to Jayalalitha on April 24, signed by one fifth of the general council members, asking her to convene a party meeting. And that since Jayalalitha hadn't responded for 30 days, as stipulated in the party charter, he was calling a general council meet on June 18. The expelled leader, the only senior AIADMK functionary to retain his seat in last year's elections, claims the support of the majority of MLAs (who total four, including Thirunavukkarasu) and most general council members.
Refuting Jayalalitha's charge that he had pleaded to be readmitted into the AIADMK before the elections, Thirunavukkarasu said he was approached several times by her secretary, V. Bhaskaran, with a request to rejoin the fold. But asked why he rejoined the AIADMK last year after being her severest critic for seven years, he only said: "I thought that she would have matured- after her years in the government but she had become worse than before".
Without trying to consolidate her position in the party after the rout, Jayalalitha embarked on a systematic witch-hunt. In a fit of anger, she expelled her secretary Bhaskaran who had stood by her during her arrest and subsequent incarceration. She is suspicious of everyone except her aide Sasikala, now under arrest.
Almost all senior leaders have been expelled over the last one-and-a-half years. The first to go was R.M. Veerappan. The founder party secretary, K.A. Krishnaswamy, was expelled next. He was followed by S.D. Somasundaram, S. Muthuswamy, S. Kannappan, K.K.S.S.R. Ramachandran and C. Aranganayagam. Except V.R. Nedunchezhiyan, no senior leader worth the name is in the party. Only flunkeys like former speaker Sedapatti Muthiah swear by Jayalalitha-and their survival is directly linked to an unabashed sycophancy.
A day after Thirunavukkarasu split the party, Nedunchezhiyan and other AIADMK office-bearers alleged that the ruling DMK government was aiding the rebellion. They said the seven MPs were escorted by the police to the rebel leader's house where he announced the split.
Narrating the sequence of events that led to his expulsion, Thirunavukkarasu admitted that the AIADMK "is divided between MGR loyalists and Jayalalitha sycophants". According to AIADMK cadres, Thirunavukkarasu offered himself as a target by ensuring a good support for the party in the Pudukottai byelections. Jayalalitha did not canvass and the entire campaign was managed by Thirunavukkarasu. After the byelections, the district-level leaders openly spoke in favour of a leadership change. They said that would help the party to survive and bounce back to power.
Thirunavukkarasu's ploy was simple. At every meeting, he first acknowledged the mistakes the party made when it was in power and apologised for the misdeeds. And, then, instead of singing Jayalalitha's praise, he invoked MGR, and his contribution to the party. He hawked the line that only by reverting to MGR's name could the party revive its political fortunes. AIADMK cadres and followers, sick of the Jayalalitha worship that has become the party culture, were enthused by his approach.
Jayalalitha was naturally peeved with Thirunakkarasu. She realised he was drawing a comparison where she would suffer. While the charismatic MGR did win elections, Jayalalitha presided over the biggest defeat of the party in its history.
With Thirunavukkarasu's exit and the split, the AIADMK may lose its most precious possession, the two leaves symbol. Ever since the death of its founder M.G. Ramachandran in 1987, the AIADMK has encountered many ups and downs. Senior leaders have been expelled and recalled; disgruntled elements have left in a huff-mostly at Jayalalitha's whim. On December 24, when loyalists gather for MGR's 10th death anniversary, they may have to pray for the survival of the party he founded.