The real test for the reunited AIADMK is in distribution of the party ticket for the election
By ending the rift over the Chief Ministerial candidate for the 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly election, the leaders of the ruling AIADMK might have enthused the cadres, and also denied political rivals an opportunity to exploit the situation. But the real challenge is in winning on the plank of performance after two consecutive terms in power. In the absence of the party having a mass leader, both Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and his deputy in government, O. Panneerselvam, appear to have clearly understood their respective political limitations and made compromises. Mr. Panneerselvam, who had held the post of Chief Minister thrice for short tenures, has agreed to let Mr. Palaniswami be the party’s face in the election, perhaps realising that the latter has consolidated his hold among people who matter in the AIADMK. On his part, the Chief Minister shed his reluctance to constitute an 11-member steering committee, a long-pending key demand of Mr. Panneerselvam, to avert any rebellion from him, irrespective of its political impact. Though shorn of strong and charismatic leaders such as M.G. Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa, the AIADMK leadership showed enough resolve to stick together. Besides, it looked as if there was no role for any outsider this time, unlike in August 2017 when the Palaniswami and Panneerselvam factions merged, as the latter claimed, on the advice of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This seems an achievement in itself given the public spectacle of Ministers playing messengers between them on August 15 and the sharp exchange of words at a marathon meeting of the party executive on September 28.
The nomination of Mr. Palaniswami, who became the Chief Minister in February 2017 under dramatic circumstances, ensures continuity; he has over the last few years acquired the image of a doer with a business-like approach. However, conflicts could still arise over the functions and powers of the steering panel, which appears to be an overarching body but with the balance seemingly tilted in favour of Mr. Palaniswami, who has six nominees, all cabinet ministers. The equations between Mr. Palaniswami and Mr. Panneerselvam could be put to the test during the distribution of the party ticket to AIADMK aspirants. Electorally, the impact of the ruling party’s latest decisions will depend upon multiple factors including a possible realignment of political forces and actor Rajinikanth launching his proposed party. Besides, a further churning within the AIADMK cannot be ruled out if V.K. Sasikala, Jayalalithaa’s aide and the party’s ousted interim general secretary, chooses a political role for herself upon her release from jail in Bengaluru. And the party will have to contend with the main opposition, the DMK, which, along with allies, made a near-sweep of the Lok Sabha election last year.