A MADRAS High Court order that came at 4.30 am foiled a concerted bid by the dominant faction of AIADMK, led by former chief minister E K Palaniswami, to seize complete control of the party and sideline the other senior leader O Panneerselvam amid chaotic scenes at a key meeting.
The court restrained the AIADMK from implementing a unitary leadership system by amending party bylaws at its general council meeting near Chennai on Thursday. But while the order brought relief for Panneerselvam, he faced taunts, slogans of “Go back” and even a few plastic bottles thrown in anger, highlighting the extent to which the mood in the party had swung in favour of his rival Palaniswami.
Even as the party resolved to meet again on July 11, the chaos reflected the internal churn after the loss in the state elections last year, triggering growing demands for a single-leader system. The party has been functioning under a dual leadership with Panneerselvam as coordinator and Palaniswami as joint coordinator since the death in 2016 of AIADMK founder J Jayalalithaa.
In the latest political drama, the first twist came on Wednesday evening when a single judge of the High Court declined to postpone the party’s general council meeting, emboldening Palaniswami’s supporters. But a late-night appeal before a division bench spoiled their plans even though an overwhelming majority was behind Palaniswami.
Subsequently, the supporters turned Thursday’s meeting at Vanagaram near Chennai into a show of strength to prove that most of the 2,200-odd members of the general council backed the proposal to declare Palaniswami as leader.
Panneerselvam, who was the first to arrive for the meeting, was confronted by a large number of party delegates from across the state. At one point, the few remaining leaders from his camp were forced to leave the dais after being booed by the crowd.
At the same time, loud cheers greeted Palaniswami’s arrival in the auditorium to a traditional welcome. Soon, the meeting elected veteran AIADMK leader Tamilmagan Hussain as the party’s presidium chairman. Also, all resolutions that were supposed to be passed at the meeting were declared rejected, with the council stating that the only agenda is to put in place a sole leader.
While both the leaders sat on either side of Hussain, Panneerselvam was mostly left alone and appeared disconcerted at the manner in which he was being treated. Even as party leaders lavished praise on Palaniswami, they did not mention Panneerselvam’s name even once, referring instead only to his designation.
“It was a high-risk strategy but the leaders on stage were able to handle it without incident,” said a senior AIADMK leader who was on the stage during the meeting.
“The public was outraged with Panneerselvam for publicly criticising the party and then taking the matter to court. On stage, Palaniswami was careful, even shouting at a follower who tried to garland him. He did not smile or acknowledge the slogans hailing him from the charged crowd.”
On the other hand, Panneerselvam’s humiliation was complete when some in the crowd flung plastic bottles at him as he prepared to leave the stage following Hussain’s announcement of the next meeting. Later, senior leader K P Munusamy said Palaniswami would be elected as the party’s general secretary at the next meeting on July 11.
Meanwhile, sources said the BJP has volunteered to assist in negotiations between the two leaders in order to find an acceptable solution, noting that there were several cases related to the tussle that were pending in courts.
Speaking to reporters, the main face of the Panneerselvam camp, R Vaithilingam, claimed the group was still open for negotiations — and that the party’s best chance of electoral success is with a combined leadership.
He also opposed the appointment of Hussain as presidium chairman and alleged that many in the audience were not general council members. Earlier, Vaithilingam was among those who had to leave the stage at the meeting.