Chennai: They came to merge two warring factions, but ended up creating a third (and equally warring) faction.
As the EPS (CM Edapadi Palaniswami) camp, in a late night announcement, agreed to the OPS (former CM O Panneerselvam) camp's main condition of dropping VK Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dinakaran from party posts, more fissures emerged within the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
Nine MLAs who were previously with EPS came forward to extend support to TTV, further claiming that there were more MLAs with them.
As lawyer and political observer C Rajasekharan says, there are now three factions in the party. "There is VKS, OPS and EPS. And they are all UPS (temporary)," he told News18.
As TTV sought to consolidate his base by calling a meeting on Wednesday afternoon, Finance Minister D Jayakumar rubbished these claims. "Whatever they may say, we have 120 MLAs and all districts secretaries are with us. Only the Chief Minister, as headquarters secretary, has powers to take decisions on party affairs," he said.
But what led to this sudden capitulation by the CM and other ministers? Were they worried that they would be all the more under the scanner of investigation agencies if they didn't get party unity together. Of course there are deadlines to be met for them to file their responses with the Election Commission. But that apart, are they a chastened lot after the recent raids on key ministers.
All the ministers who were allegedly "named" in the leaked documents after the Income Tax raids on Health Minister Vijay Bhaskar's home were among the 20 ministers who took the late Tuesday night decision to keep the Mannargudi family out.
But as TTV's supporters point out, why are ministers making these announcements, why has the CM not spoken.
Nanzhil Sampath, an MLA and supporter, did talk about the underlying fear factor of MLAs. "We are not scared of Delhi, we won't be cowed down by them."
The CM, who rarely interacts with the media, kept mum, though another minister said the now-expelled TTV faction will not be allowed to hold any meetings at the party office.
Questions are also being raised on the position of two ministers—K A Sengottaiyan and Dindigul Srinivas –both staunch loyalists of Dinakaran. Will they be persuaded for a merger or face the fate of Dinakaran?
These are questions that have kept the OPS camp awake nights too. Though his supporters are upbeat about an imminent merger, the top leadership is cautious about how much and how soon they can trust the overtures of friendship from the EPS cabinet. They are a tad surprised too that their demand has been met within hours.
The stage is set to move forward on merger talks, but the MLAs also want to see Panneerselvam back in the CM's seat. Edapadi may not yield on this, though they may reach a compromise on dividing the responsibilities of the party and the government between them.
While welcoming the ouster of Sasikala and kin as their “first victory”, Panneerselvam kept people guessing on a formal merger immediately. “We will take a decision that is good for public interest. Both factions will sit down and talk to fulfil aspirations of party workers,” he said.
Now, that they have the upper hand, the OPS camp may want more. Wednesday's meetings will set the course for reconciliation, but it could take a week to finalise details, iron out differences, and transfer power, if needed.
Sasikala and family are left alone now, but they are unlikely to lie low for long. They are trying to muster up the numbers to show that enough MLAs still support them and they could topple the government.
"Who says there are factions? We are all united," said Dinakaran in a show of bravado as he emerged from the court after a hearing on economic offences.
But the meeting he called for has been put off to Thursday, indicating much of the confidence is hollow.
This week's developments, perhaps, are forcing a democracy of sorts within the party now—forcing MLAs to choose who they go with. Whatever their choice, though, will ultimately depend on how long they can save their (MLA) seats.