Even as her tea estate got burgled and four lives were lost, Jayalalitha’s followers were not done with fighting over her political estate. Sasikala and Dinakaran were in prison, and CM E.K. Palaniswami (EPS) had ostensibly turned against them and was talking peace with the rival faction led by O. Panneerselvam, who had rebelled against Sasikala in February.
Though peace talks between EPS and OPS got sidelined by the action at Kodanad, the merger charade continued back at Chennai. Amidst conflicting statements, the seven-member committee of both camps failed to meet officially even once to finalise the details of a merger. Both sides refused to budge from their stated position. “Throw out Sasikala and family and order CBI probe into Jayalalitha’s death” was the refrain of the OPS camp, pitted against the other side that said, “We have the support of 123 MLAs, so there is no threat to this government. If the other side wants, they can join us. But EPS will continue as CM.”
It became clear that the EPS side was unwilling to openly disassociate itself from the Sasikala family. Its ministers participated in a memorial function for a recently deceased nephew of Sasikala and rubbed shoulders with her husband Natarajan and brother Diwaharan. The EPS faction also filed fresh affidavits before the Election Commission claiming to be the real AIADMK and asking for the ‘two leaves’ symbol. The affidavits declared Sasikala general secretary and Dinakaran deputy general secretary. The two also continued to find prominence in the party’s official mouthpiece Namadhu MGR.
“EPS and Dinakaran continue to be comrades-in-arms,” said OPS. “Their posturing about distancing from the family is a fraud. Unless both our preconditions are met, the merger will not happen. I would be happy to carry on Amma’s legacy.” He also announced a programme to meet the cadres from May 5 to prove he was more popular among them than EPS. The trust deficit between the two sides was stark and chances of rapprochement slim.
“EPS faces no imminent threat to his government, but he does need the ‘two leaves’ symbol to fight the local body elections,” says political analyst Peer Mohammed. “OPS fears the goodwill and support he now commands would get diluted by joining hands with the tainted government. And he is not sure if all his MLAs (12) and MPs (12) will stick to him if the merger fails to come through. It is a veritable dilemma for both.”