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AIADMK Rival Factions Likely To Merge Today

The camps led by CM E Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam may take place at noon, sources say

New Delhi:  The drawn out negotiations between rival factions of Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK party may finally produce a merger that has been in the works for months.The camps led by Chief Minister E Palaniswami or EPS and his predecessor O Panneerselvam or OPS may take place at noon, sources say.

On Friday night, despite elaborate flower arrangements and party members waiting at the shoreside memorial of J Jayalalithaa in Chennai, the merger of the two sides that split after her death fell through reportedly because some members of the OPS camp wanted EPS to step down.

One of the key conditions of the OPS camp – the expulsion of jailed party chief VK Sasikala – is likely to be the main driver of the reunion. Sources say the chief minister is likely to announce her removal at a meeting today.

Ms Sasikala, a long-time friend of Ms Jayalalithaa, took control of the party after her death in December and soon angled for the chief minister’s post, forcing the resignation of OPS who then rebelled.

Ms Sasikala’s plans to take charge of the state government collapsed when she was convicted by the Supreme Court for corruption and sentenced to four years in jail. Before going to jail, she named EPS as the new chief minister and her nephew, TTV Dhinakaran, the AIADMK’s number No. 2.

OPS may be made deputy chief minister and party coordinator and three of his supporters may become ministers as part of the deal between the two factions.  

Sources say some kinks may still need to be ironed out in the meeting between the factions before a possible merger announcement. Both sides are cautious, given the many false starts.

On Saturday, OPS said: “There are no differences in the AIADMK and the talks for the merger as desired by the people of Tamil Nadu and cadre of AIADMK are proceeding smoothly. As early as possible and in a day or two, a good decision will be reached.”

The evening before, a large number of AIADMK lawmakers and the media waited for hours for an expected joint announcement by EPS and OPS of a merger after the chief minister agreed to a demand for an investigation into how Ms Jayalalithaa died. But the OPS camp insisted on a serving judge and not a team headed by a retired judge to examine the events that led to the former chief minister’s death.

Mr Palaniswami and Mr Panneerselvam’s separate meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi recently were seen to give the possibility of a merger a boost. The BJP is believed to be invested in a reunited AIADMK, which has in the past supported it on key policies and legislation and is seen as friendly to the centre.