AIADMK merger hits Sasikala roadblock, stalls formal announcement by EPS-OPS factions

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Chennai: Tamil Nadu’s ruling and rebel AIADMK factions reached an understanding on Friday but the formal announcement of a merger got scuttled by last-mile hiccups.
Chief minister Edappadi Palanisami and his predecessor O Panneerselvam, popularly known as OPS, were to announce the unification at party supremo J Jayalalithaa’s memorial on Marina beach.
But sources said the event was delayed as the rebels want the ruling faction to formally sack VK Sasikala, the jailed AIADMK general secretary and long-time aide of Jayalalithaa.
The AIADMK split after Sasikala took over the reins of the party in February, removed Panneerselvam from the chief minister’s post, handpicked Palanisami as his replacement, and appointed nephew TTV Dinakaran as her deputy before going to jail for corruption.
The two AIADMK factions inched closer to merger after Palanisami accepted on Thursday most of the rival camp’s demands, including a judicial investigation into the death of Jayalalithaa last December and turning her Poes Garden bungalow into a museum and memorial.
According to the power-sharing formula, Panneerselvam, popularly known as OPS, is likely to be deputy chief minister with the finance portfolio and two of his supporters will ministers. Also, the party chief’s post could go to OPS.
State minister Rajendra Balaji said: “The signals were positive and merger would happen.”
The state machinery got ready for event and information was sent to media that an announcement could be made at 7.30pm.
Palanisami was ready, his convoy in place and security details on alert to ferry him to the beachfront memorial decked out with flowers for the occasion. People too have gathered in numbers.
But the Panneerselvam camp wasn’t. The former chief minister held a four-hour marathon meeting with senior leaders at his home. The meeting continued till 9pm and ended with a decision.
Former finance minister C Ponnaian said: “There is no news … Whatever decision has to be conveyed will be done by OPS.”
A senior OPS camp leader said the meeting remained inconclusive “because of the continuation of Sasikala as the general secretary”.
“A section of the OPS camp leaders were insisting that Sasikala must be formally ousted before any merger could take place.”
Discussions on portfolios and posts were also incomplete, sources said.
Away from the action in Chennai, a power brainstorming happened at Parapparana Agrahara jail in Benguluru, where Sasikala is serving a four-year sentence.
Among the merger conditions of the OPS camp, removal of Sasikala and her family from the party and government was one of the foremost. The ruling faction had sacked Dinakaran last week in a reconciliatory signal to the rival group.
He and aunt Sasikala, who celebrated her 62nd birthday on Friday, met in the jail.
“I am not going to reveal my strategies on television … We have sleeper cells that will become active at an appropriate time,” Dinakran told reporters in the Karnataka capital.
He paraded 19 MLAs at a rally in Madurai earlier this week. But on Friday, only a handful attended a meeting of his supporters at a private hotel in Chennai.
The merger moves gathered pace after Dinakran’s Madurai rally that unnerved the two factions.

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