Outlying contender to AIADMK’s legacy, VK Sasikala met with the party coordinator and former deputy chief minister, O Panneerselvam, on Wednesday to condole the death of his wife.
The two Jayalalithaa loyalists, whose rivalry had peaked after her death and mellowed since their clash in February 2017, met briefly at Gem Hospital in Chennai.
Since her release from prison, Sasikala has been a claimant of the party reins.
With no direct say in AIADMK affairs and her only political visibility being the audio tapes of phone conversations with party men where she vowed to win over the party, Sasikala had recently called on former party presidium chairman Madhusudhanan who was hospitalised and died last month. Her arrival at the hospital had led to the hurried exit of Edappadi Palaniswami.
The meeting between Panneerselvam and Sasikala today is likely to lead political analysts to fire up current speculation of a thaw in their relationship. Before the recently concluded elections that saw the DMK storm to power, Panneerselvam had hinted that he was open to having Sasikala back to the AIADMK fold. In her phone conversations with party cadre, Sasikala had indicated that she was ready to bury the hatchet with the original rebel.
Panneerselvam had famously struck out against Sasikala and the control her family wielded over party affairs after Jayalalithaa left her throne without a successor.
His ‘Dharmayudh’ had a few takers and he had to worm his way back into the AIADMK fold headed by Palaniswami and his coterie of politicians—SP Velumani, P Thangamani and others.
Sasikala, who had to go to prison in the disproportionate assets case just three months after Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016, had returned recently and has been trying to establish her hold over the party.
The AIADMK’s top order appears as fluid as it seemed nearly four years ago. Palaniswami, clearly rattled by the DMK government to probe into the Kodanadu murder case in which he is speculated to be involved, is caught up trying to tame the political action against him. Panneerselvam, who had often complained about his diminishing clout over party affairs, has been keeping a low profile. Recently in the state Assembly, he described his position with a Tamil couplet that roughly translates to being caught between a rock and hard place.
With Sasikala attempting to gnaw her way back into the party, the AIADMK might be heading towards a leadership churn — an inopportune time for internal challenges when the arch-rival DMK can be seen cementing the fort. The question is: Will the shift —if it happens—throw up a leader who can steady the ship and bring the party back on its feet?