Six months after parting ways following the death of then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, the two factions of the AIADMK finally merged on Monday with rebel leader O Panneerselvam made the Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister and party coordinator.
Panneerselvam, who was twice Chief Minister when Jayalalithaa was jailed and again after she died in December, will also get back his Finance portfolio. He had quit as Chief Minister the last time in February following differences with Sasikala, a long-time Jayalalithaa aide.
The party is also likely to sack the now jailed V K Sasikala as the General Secretary.
When questioned about Sasikala’s expulsion from the party post, Panneerselvam said that the decision will be taken after party’s general body meeting.
Former minister and party veteran C. Ponnaiyan also expressed confidence that the AIADMK government would run its full course of five years and no MLA would take part in any attempt at toppling it.
He said the appointment of Sasikala as General Secretary in the wake of Jayalalithaa's death in December was illegal at the first instance.
"There was no provision for Sasikala's appointment as General Secretary because election to that post can be done only by the primary members of the party. The General Council, which appointed her, will be convened to remove her from the post," he told reporters.
He said under the AIADMK constitution whenever there is a vacancy to the post of General Secretary, the duties and responsibilities of General Secretary will be performed by an Executive Council.
Prime Minister took to Twitter to congratulate Panneerselvam and other leaders of the merged party who took oath for different party posts. PM Modi also said he hopes that Tamil Nadu will touch newer heights of progress in the coming years.
I congratulate Thiru O Panneerselvam & others who took oath today. I hope Tamil Nadu scales newer heights of progress in the years to come.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 21, 2017
He also assured all possible support to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswami and Deputy CM Panneerselvam for the growth of the state.
The merger of the two factions came after weeks of hectic parleys, overcoming the acrimony and last minute tough bargaining by the Panneerselvam group which insisted on an announcement about Sasikala's removal. She is now in a Bengaluru jail for corruption.
The much awaited coming together of the two factions was announced at a function at the AIADMK headquarters where Chief Minister K. Palaniswami disclosed the changes within the party.
The Chief Minister will be the Joint Coordinator while Panneerselvam faction leader K.P. Munuswami and Palaniswami faction leader and MP Vaithyalingam will be the Deputy Coordinators.
An 11-member Guidance Committee will be formed to run the merged AIADMK, he said.
Vaithyalingam, who spoke against family rule at the merger ceremony, announced that the AIADMK General Council will meet soon to remove Sasikala, who was appointed General Secretary by the same body after Jayalalithaa died on December 5 last year.
Panneerselvam loyalist K. Pandyarajan made a re-entry into the government as Minister for Tamil Official Language and Tamil Culture. He was earlier Minister for Higher Education.
Speaking at the party headquarters, Panneerselvam said differences between the two groups had been sorted out and the leaders had come together to protect the government and the legacy of the late MGR and Jayalalithaa.
"We cannot remain divided. We are all children of Jayalalithaa. And what we are doing is in keeping with the interest of people of Tamil Nadu and 1.5 crore cadre of the AIADMK," he said, calling it a historic merger.
He thanked Chief Minister Palaniswami for initiating moves for the merger. "I feel unburdened."
Welcoming the rival group, the Chief Minister thanked "elder brother Paneerselvam" for the unity which he said would realize the dreams of MGR and Jayalalithaa.
The newly appointed Deputy Coordinator Munuswami said the party should work without prejudices against leaders and cadres belonging to both former factions.
After the merger ceremony, all the top leaders, including Panneerselvam and Palaniswami, drove to the memorials of Jayalalithaa and MGR on the Marina beach.
Hectic parleys preceded the arrival of the two leaders at the AIADMK office, to sort out the last-minute differences that were delaying the merger.
Earlier, Panneerselvam was received enthusiastically at the party headquarters by AIADMK cadres who presented him stoles and bouquets. It was his first visit to the office after six months. Hundreds celebrated the occasion by bursting firecrackers.
Before his arrival, Palaniswamy held discussions with his colleagues including ministers K.A. Sengottaiyan, Dindugal Srinivasan and D. Jayakumar.
Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao arrived here on Monday afternoon for the swearing in ceremony.
Meanwhile, the faction headed by T.T.V. Dinakaran, Sasikala's nephew, has warned against his own and Sasikala's sacking as Deputy General Secretary and General Secretary of the AIADMK. Dinakaran is said to enjoy the support of a dozen MLAs.