Fall of OPS: Jayalalithaa’s Favourite in AIADMK, Now Struggling To Be Relevant
OPS was once Jayalalithaa’s favourite. But he could not capitalise on his influence.
The story of 1988 has come knocking on the doors of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) again.
After AIADMK's founding president MG Ramachandran's death, the party split into two factions with MGR's wife Janaki, who had the support of her cadre and senior political members on one side and Jayalalithaa, MGR's prodigy on the other. In the 1989 Assembly election, though Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) won, it was a matter of huge triumph for Jayalalithaa as she won from her Bodinayakanur (Theni district) seat along with twenty six of her supporters. The Janaki faction was wiped out, managing just two seats. Jayalalithaa won the party, the symbol, and the legacy.
While what happened back then is seen as more extreme than what is happening now, the power struggle is quite the same.
Cut to July 2022.
Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS), along with the party members, expelled
Ottakarathevar Panneerselvam (OPS), on 11 July from the primary membership, thus ending his stint as the coordinator of the party.
The Quint spoke to analysts to understand what options lie ahead for OPS. What will Panneerselvam's political future look like?
How OPS Rose Almost Sky-High Only To Let EPS Climb
OPS served as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu thrice by the virtue of being one of the trusted lieutenants of late AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa. In 2017, he started a rebellion against VK Sasikala, a close aide of Jayalalithaa, and won the support of several leaders in the AIADMK and a favourable public perception.
During his ‘Dharma Yudham’ at Jayalalithaa’s memorial on the night of 7 February 2017, he vowed to expose the skeletons in AIADMK's cupboard. “People thought that OPS, was finally no longer Jaya’s sit-in dummy but had evolved as a leader. He played on the doubts people had in their minds and his popularity exploded in a day,” said a source close to OPS.
However, that was short-lived as during the floor test, it became apparent that he had the support of only 11 of the 134 MLAs.
After Sasikala went to prison in a disproportionate assets case, OPS reconciled with EPS and settled for the post of deputy chief minister.
After winning round one, EPS, a Gounder by caste, managed to not only become the Chief Minister for the remainder of his tenure but he also became the Opposition leader after the party lost power in 2021.
EPS, who was below OPS in the party hierarchy and popularity, rose above the latter. Meanwhile, OPS bargained and got himself the post of AIADMK coordinator, whereas EPS was named the joint coordinator.
In this time, EPS’s clout in the party grew significantly and he was able to consolidate his position, both in the government and in the party, owing to his political approach, caste equations, money power, and government machinery that was at his disposal.
Meanwhile, OPS never capitalised on his influence thus failing to inspire leaders to believe that he can be the next Jaya.
OPS’ Flip-Flop Led to the Loss of His Political Credibility
What is appalling is that apart from a few cadre vandalising the AIADMK headquarters on the morning of the general council meeting, there have been no major protests against OPS' unceremonious removal.
Political analysts opined that the sealing of the headquarters following the violence by OPS’ supporters didn’t work in his favour.
Explaining why no leaders or cadre raised their voice in support of OPS, political analyst C Rangarajan said, “EPS had issued a decree a few years ago, stating that any AIADMK member who meets Sasikala will be expelled. The same kind of a diktat has been issued now, so none of them are risking their position in the party to visit OPS. There are so many in the AIADMK who are not supporting OPS or EPS. But they would rather stay put with someone who has the reins of the party than a leader like OPS.”
The reason for OPS' mega failure has been his constant flip-flop that led to the loss of his political credibility over time.
OPS had raised doubts about Jayalalithaa’s death and fuelled conspiracy theories against Sasikala. But later, while deposing before the Justice Arumughaswamy Commission of Inquiry, which was constituted to probe the death, he gave a clean chit to Sasikala. Additionally, leaders who stood by him in 2017 feel let down by OPS as he failed to stand by them when “they were expelled from the party for merely visiting Sasikala.”
OPS’s support among the Thevar community in the Kongu belt or south Tamil Nadu, has also significantly waned in the past five years, due to his failed strategies, thus helping Sasikala, also Thevar, grow.
“From the beginning OPS has enjoyed only a meagre support – to the tune of 10 percent while EPS enjoys 90 percent. OPS wanted to project himself as a common leader but the Thevars wanted the guarantee that their community has been represented. He failed to do that.”Ravindran Duraisamy, Political Analyst
“By trying to please BJP, OPS antagonised his own community. He wanted to project himself as a 'leader for all'; but by doing that he ended up being a leader for nobody. The OPS-EPS relationship could’ve forged the way for strong Thevar and Gounder camps, but OPS failed,” said Rangarajan.
All That OPS Can Do Now Is Wait
Before being shunned from the party, OPS had pulled all stops – from appealing to the Madras High Court to Supreme Court to the Election Commission – to protect his position.
After being ousted from the party, he wrote to the Chief Election Commissioner urging him not to accept the decisions or act on resolutions adopted on 11 July, terming the general council meeting illegal. He reiterated that he continues to be the coordinator and the treasurer of the AIADMK. Meanwhile, EPS has also submitted a representation to the ECI. OPS has written to banks stating that no transactions can be made without his authorisation.
And now all that OPS can do is wait.
“Honestly, it is not the party symbol that can win people’s support. This is no Jaya era. This breakdown of collective leadership has paved the way for collective failure. And how much ever they speak on Dravidian politics, they are stuck with BJP and it is just a matter of time before they sink, and not sail. There is no leader in AIADMK who has the guts to even stand up and speak to the BJP,” said Rangarajan.
A source added, “With Rajya Sabha elections coming up, BJP doesn’t want to meddle with the AIADMK power tussle. They need EPS’ support. But by the end of this month, their stance will be clearer. But now that almost all of AIADMK is rallying behind EPS, OPS’ chances of finding support are slim.”
It would be interesting to see how OPS, an open admirer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is going to approach the BJP in future.
Meanwhile, what is interesting is that OPS' son, O.P.Raveendranath, who is the lone Lok Sabha MP from AIADMK, has not spoken up at all. He has not been ousted from the party. However he was condemned by the senior leaders for meeting with DMK's Stalin a few days ago.
This new version of the AIADMK could give rise to new caste divides. If OPS joins hands with Sasikala, it may dent AIADMK’s social base. EPS may have emerged as the most powerful leader of the party but will he be able to pull a Jayalalithaa-style move and return to office in 2024? OPS’ camp along with others who’ve been expelled from the party will definitely drum up apprehensions. What OPS has now is a lot of time to gather strength and be ready to play in the Dravidian political ground, or choose to fizzle out.
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