Saturday, June 19, 2021

AIADMK chooses Edappadi Palaniswami as Leader of Opposition in Tamil Nadu assembly

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After a power tussle between former Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami and senior AIADMK leader O Panneerselvam on Monday, the former was chosen as the AIADMK’s legislative party leader in effect making him the Leader of Opposition in Tamil Nadu.

After losing the assembly elections, this is the next best post for an outgoing chief minister and Palaniswami has now sealed his position in the AIADMK for now and future. The party needed to finalise its decision today as the newly elected House is expected to meet on Tuesday for the first time for oath-taking.

This was the second meeting as the party wasn’t able to arrive at a consensus when it previously met on Friday. After a three-hour meeting on Monday, at the party office in Chennai, there was no press briefing but AIADMK announced on Twitter that they have chosen Palaniswami as the opposition leader. It was followed by a statement signed by both Palaniswami and Panneerselvam.

The duo has been managing affairs of the party and government since J Jayalalithaa’s death in office in December 2016. The dual leadership arrangement is where Palaniswami was chief minister and joint coordinator of the AIADMK while Pannerselvam was his deputy chief minister and coordinator of the party. However, simmering tension between the duo has come up now and then over important decisions over the position.

Inside the meeting, senior leader KP Munusamy announced Palaniswami as the opposition leader to the newly-elected MLAs. “It is a unanimous decision of the new MLAs, senior leaders without any dissent,” said one of AIADMK’s founding members C Ponnaiyan.

But the scenes outside the party office were different, as there was heavy police deployment and it had swelled up with opposing cadre who supported the two leaders. This crowd was there despite Tamil Nadu going into full lockdown from Monday up to May 24. The party had informed the police of their meeting that was decided last week.

In the previous meeting, the newly elected MLAs were seated on the first floor of the party office while seniors, along with Palaniswami and Panneerselvam discussed matters on the ground floor. When asked if there was no dissent why the previous meeting was inconclusive, Ponnaiyan said, “There was no actual problem, it was created by the media. Besides choosing the opposition leader, we had to discuss our electoral debacle. Our performance in the north and south regions isn’t appreciable.”

The poll performance had given Palaniswami the upper hand as he and former top ministers hail from the western region where the party performed its best with more number of MLAs being elected. Pannerselvam hails from the south. In what was seen as Pannerselvam’s show of strength, he had attended chief minister MK Stalin’s swearing-in last Friday before the meeting and they ate a table together along with Governor Banwarilal Purohit, former chief secretary Rajeev Ranjan and other senior DMK leaders.

A new MLA from the south’s Usilampatti constituency, P Ayyapan said that they agreed to the leadership’s decision. “I’m from his (Panneerselvam) region. He hadn’t come to us for our support in this matter. He didn’t say he wants the post,” said Ayyapan. “It’s the cadre outside who are shouting slogans and leaving.”

However, issues had been brewing over who would become the leader of opposition. A former AIADMK minister who didn’t wish to be quoted said, “It is only natural and expected that both leaders had their own support base who put forth their points. We have resolved this now.”

This is the second time that Pannerselvam has given up an important post despite putting up a fight initially. In October 2020, after more than a week of MLAs shuttling between the two leaders, Pannerselvam broke the suspense and announced the party’s decision to field Palaniswami as the chief ministerial candidate.

The party has deftly ousted VK Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran in 2017. While they wanted to reclaim the AIADMK, Sasikala announced that she was keeping away ahead of the elections and Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) didn’t win any seat but played spoiler for AIADMK in 21 seats. For now, the party says that there will be no deflection.

Meanwhile, Rajya Sabha MPs Munusamy and R Vaithilingam have resigned since they have won as MLAs from Vepanahalli and Orathanadu constituencies in the recently concluded elections. During the campaign, AIADMK’s RS MP Mohamed John died of a cardiac arrest and with that three upper house seats from Tamil Nadu are vacant.

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