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The continuing tussle between former chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam in Chennai spilled over to the streets of Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district when posters emerged on Wednesday that warned Palaniswami against sidelining Panneerselvam.
On Thursday, Palaniswami’s supporters in the district put up a response, posters that celebrated Edappadi Palaniswami’s election as the leader of the legislature party in the assembly. This poster thanked the MLAs for electing Palaniswami as leader of the AIADMK legislature party nearly a month earlier. It also had a photo of Panneerselvam to indicate that the two leaders were united.
The first round of posters that surfaced in Tirunelveli, nearly 600 km from state capital Chennai, blamed Palaniswami for leading the party into defeat in the recently-concluded assembly elections that led to the AIADMK’s exit from the government. It also attributed the AIADMK’s defeat – the party won just 66 of the 234 seats in the assembly – to Palaniswami’s perceived reluctance to take O Panneerselvam along.
“Do not take any decision without consulting coordinator O Panneerselvam, who was identified as the leader for the party by Amma (late former chief minister J Jayalalithaa),” the poster said, warning that AIADMK cadre would lay siege to the party headquarters if Panneerselvam was not consulted.
Panneerselvam, who had twice been Tamil Nadu’s stop-gap chief minister, was appointed chief minister for the third time in December 2016 when Jayalalithaa died. This stint, however, didn’t last long and he was replaced by Palaniswami in February 2017 who then had the support of Jayalalithaa aide VK Sasikala. The two rivals patched up in August 2017 and Panneerselvam returned to the government as Palaniswami’s deputy.
AIADMK spokesperson D Jayakumar said the coordinator and the co-coordinator (Palaniswami) will look into the issue. “If anti-party activities are found, action will be taken,” he said.
The AIADMK, which has 66 representatives in the assembly, is expected to meet on June 14 to elect its office bearers, deputy leader, whip, treasurer and secretary of the legislature party. The party has asked the authorities to hold this meeting in view of the Covid restrictions on in-person meetings.
The last time the legislators met was in May when Panneerselvam did put up a fight but eventually gave in, just like he did when Palaniswami was made chief ministerial candidate ahead of the elections.
The episode further strained relations between the leaders, a rift that VK Sasikala has tried to use to her advantage.
Her team is releasing audio clips of her speaking to partymen who ask her to return to a leadership role in the party and she consoles them that she will return and take forward Jayalallithaa’s rule. Panneerselvam and Palaniswami did meet briefly in a Chennai hotel for fifteen minutes earlier this week.
Former minister KC Veeramani on Thursday told reporters that there will be no place for confusion, echoing the comments of several AIADMK leaders including Palaniswami. “This is AIADMK’s fort, there is no room for confusion here,” he said.