A strange irony of the power struggle within the AIADMK, between Sasikala and Panneerselvam, was that the former lost more parliament members than MLAs.
Panneerselvam, the isolated hero of the party's contest for control, had the satisfaction of 11 MPs supporting him, while at best he had only nine MLAs with him, besides himself. Although he blamed Sasikala for locking up the MLAs in the resort and thereby preventing their free movement, the ability with which he attracts more than one fifth of the party members in parliament showed other dynamics of the party at play.
One of the natural supporters was firebrand women member Sasikala Pushpa, who had rebelled against both Jayalalithaa and Sasikala, and had been expelled from the party by Jayalalithaa, before she had her health crisis. Pushpa, who had a visceral hatred for Sasikala, made a lot of noise against the latter assuming control of the party and even accused her of foul play in Jayalalithaa’s treatment.
Thus, when the soul of Jayalalithaa reportedly spoke to Panneerselvam, Pushpa was ready to jump into the rebel camp. But she was beaten to the draw by V. Maitreyan, the former leader of the AIADMK in Rajya Sabha. Maitreyan has a chequered political background. An expert in diabetic medicine, the bachelor was trained by the RSS and was a leading member of the BJP in Tamil Nadu.
After realizing BJP had no political hopes in the state, he shifted loyalty to Jayalalithaa, who rewarded him with two terms in the Rajya Sabha, including a leader's position. Maitreyan was a vociferous member during the UPA rule, strongly attacking the Congress and DMK ministers, and he had a good rapport with Arun Jaitley, who was the leader of the opposition then. Maitreyan was bullish and also took credit for bringing Jayalalithaa and Narendra Modi together, though Amma spurned the invitation to join NDA in 2014. But she was mighty pleased that she had swept the Lok Sabha elections, and Narendra Modi had vanquished the Congress. Party insiders even speculated that Maitreyan, given his background and contacts, would become the pointsman for relations, and could even become a minister, if AIADMK joined the government.
But within months after the election, Maitreyan was consigned to the backbenches by Jayalalithaa who appointed advocate Navaneetha Krishnan as the leader in Rajya Sabha. Maitryan suffered the humiliation, because he was not allowed to speak much and even shunned by MPs who were close to the deputy speaker M. Thambidurai, who is very close to Sasikala.
Thambidurai, who took control of the party in both Houses, wanted to put his impression on the party’s work. Even though he was deputy speaker, he participated in many debates taking up the party's time, leading to murmurs in the backbenches.
Thus, when Sasikala moved for the kill against Panneerselvam, Thambidurai was her ardent supporter from Delhi. The BJP also thought it should exploit the situation, if there was a vertical split in AIADMK, and Maitreyan became active on behalf of Panneerselvam. He worked on his contacts in the party and persuaded several Lok Sabha members to declare their allegiance to Panneerselvam, even though the party MLAs in their constituencies stuck to Sasikala. These MPs have been expelled by Sasikala, and the never-say-die Maitreyan has represented to election commission that neither Sasikala nor her nephew Dinakaran has any right to run the party.
Even though the leadership seems resolved, the BJP is hoping the 11 MPs, who are expelled, will remain defiant, and Dinakaran as deputy general secretary, will not revoke their suspensions. In that event, the MPs will be unattached and can decide whom to support and the BJP needs every extra vote in the presidential election.