As Tamil Nadu political parties gear up for the all-important state polls in 2021, turmoil has hit the AIADMK as warring factions of Deputy CM O Pannerselvam (OPS) and CM E Palaniswamy (EPS) to choose a Chief ministerial candidate in the upcoming polls. With Opposition leader and DMK chief MK Stalin gaining ground with an aggressive CM campaign, BJP is trying to soothe the factions to keep NDA stable in the elusive southern state. The 2021 polls will be the first state assembly elections in the absence of late AIADMK Supremo J Jayalalitha and late DMK patron M Karunanidhi.
EPS Vs OPS as Sasikala bids time
In the recent executive committee meeting on September 28, several AIADMK leaders spoke to OPS allegedly about the CM face – leading to OPS skip several COVID-19 review meetings. EPS, who faces incumbency, eyes to retain his seat. AIADMK which has banned its leaders form airing political views to the media is split into two camps – OPS (who was chosen by Jayalalitha as her Deputy) and EPS (chosen by VK Sasikala – former general secretary & ex-aide of Jayalalitha) since the demise of five-time CM Jayalalitha in 2016. Sasikala, who may be released on January 27, 2021 from Bengaluru prison, eyes rejoining AIADMK, but has been ruled out by the party as of now.
Reports state that miffed by EPS, OPS has allegedly reached out to former AIADMK MP and AMMK founder TTV Dinakaran – who is also Sasikala’s nephew. Dinakaran, who was ousted from AIADMK after EPS-OPS camps united in 2017 following Sasikala’s criminal conviction, has been allegedly been approached by OPS is an attempt to mend fences. OPS has proposed the formation of the 11-member steering committee to reform the party, which has been opposed by EPS. Currently, the CM confusion continues as both EPS and OPS have held series of meeting with senior ministers including SP Velumani, KA Sengottaiyan, CV Shanmugam, and D Jayakumar. The party is set to announce its CM candidate on October 7.
Meanwhile, the BJP which eyes to make inroads into Tamil Nadu has been trying to reunite the warring factions. In fact in 2016, amid the impasse between the two camps, the BJP had intervened to allow EPS to continue as CM and made OPS the party’s Convenor, Deputy CM, naming the late Jayalalitha as the party’s ‘eternal’ General Secretary. After her demise, her close aide Sasikala had taken over as general secretary, but was convicted and arrested in the disproportionate assets case. With OPS quitting as caretaker CM, EPS, who was chosen by Sasikala, was made the CM. Inspite of many calling him a ‘place-holding CM’, EPS has emerged out of Sasikala’s shadow – effectively handling COVID-19 outbreak, opposing Centre’s GST roll-out, ‘Hindi imposition’, National Education Policy and banning religious celebrations amid COVID.
Stalin’s aggressive campaign
With the major vacuum in Tamil Nadu politics, Karunanidhi’s successor and son MK Stalin eyes his maiden CM term. Roping in renowned poll strategist – Prashant Kishor, Stalin has launched an aggressive campaign hitting out at CM EPS and the Centre over a variety of issues – rising Hindutva in Tamil Nadu, CAA, NRC, Hindi imposition, COVID spread, inflation etc. Pairing with UPA ally Congress, Stalin has aggressively attacked the Centre on its continued detention of Kashmiri leaders after its revoked Article 370 and 35 A. Recently, Stalin launched a massive rally against the holding of NEET exams amid 4 student suicides in one week – vowing to ban the exam if elected to power and against the Centre’s newly passed Farm Bills. DMK cannot afford to lose a third straight Assembly election after sweeping the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls with 38 seats.
Other smaller players in the Tamil Nadu elections include – the TTV Dinakaran-led Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) and Superstars Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) and Rajinikanth’s unnamed party. While MNM contested in the Tamil Nadu by-polls, failing to win a single seat, Rajinikanth has confirmed he will contest in 2021 but is yet to formally launch his party. The superstars have also hinted at a possible alliance to ‘create a miracle in 2021 elections’. Meanwhile, former AIADMK ally and DMDK chief Vijayakanth has been conspicuously absent from the political scene.