Edappadi K Palaniswami seized leadership of AIADMK and expelled O Panneerselvam after an unusual experiment in Indian politics: a party jointly governed by two leaders. The partnership between EPS and OPS was first established in 2017 and has been going strong ever since. As the chief minister of Tamil Nadu and a co-convener of the AIADMK, EPS and OPS worked together to remove an imprisoned VK Sasikala. A four-year prison sentence that began in February 2017 snatched control of the party from her hands after Jayalalithaa’s death in 2016.
AIADMK’s tumultuous history is unique in Indian politics. Sasikala has a soft spot for OPS and EPS in her music collection at one point or another. Even though OPS is now in disgrace, she had already chosen him as her successor on two previous times when Jayalalithaa had stepped down as CM. Dark horse EPS, on the other hand, has shown superior realpolitik insight in this three-way battle. After toppling Sasikala, EPS tightened his grip on power and pushed out OPS with the help of his allies.
The battle for AIADMK’s top seat is far from done, if history serves as a guide. OPS may still put his leadership skills to the test even after the executive committee and 2,000 or so-strong general council of leaders and office bearers have spoken. During the AIADMK split following the death of MGR in 1989, most of the party’s top leaders sided with Janaki, MGR’s widow. However, neither EPS nor OPS have the charisma of Jayalalithaa, and the cadre may be dissatisfied that the party is without a charismatic leader for the first time in decades.
New gulfs between social classes or regions might form in such an environment. AIADMK’s social base may be damaged by OPS’s alliance with Sasikala, both of whom are Thevars. In the near term, a weaker AIADMK would be advantageous to DMK. In addition, the DMK will be concerned about who would fill AIADMK’s void.
Because of his reputation as a good administrator, AIADMK’s performance in 2021 may have been more credible. Despite this, Jayalalithaa was a force to be reckoned with: AIADMK expects the same from its next leader. Can EPS, the opposition leader, hold its own? Expelled but not silenced, his adversaries are likely to exploit this major uncertainty.