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Several senior Tamil Nadu Ministers tonight went into a huddle here amid reports about coming together of rival AIADMK factions led by TTV Dhinakaran and O Panneerselvam.
The development came on a day when the Delhi Police booked AIADMK (Amma) leader TTV Dhinakaran for allegedly trying to bribe an Election Commission official in a failed bid to obtain the coveted "two-leaves" party symbol for his faction.
Emerging from the more than an hour-and-half-long meeting at the residence of Electricity Minister K Thangamani late tonight, Finance Minister D Jayakumar said modalities were being worked out to pave the way for the merger of the two factions.
Earlier in the day, Panneerselvam, a former Chief Minister of the state, had expressed confidence that the Dhinakaran faction leaders would approach him for merger talks.
"If approached, we are ready to sit and talk and I have confidence that they (leaders) will come (for talks)," he told reporters at the airport here.
"Given the opinion (voiced by OPS), modalities to strengthen the party and to run it with unity were discussed," Jayakumar told reporters, briefing them about the meeting which was attended by most of the ministers of E K Palaniswami government.
Earlier in the day, speculations swirled about a possible pact between Palaniswami and Panneerselvam under which both VK Sasikala, the jailed AIADMK general secretary, and Dhinakaran, her nephew and deputy, would be ousted.
Unconfirmed reports had it that under the arrangement Palaniswami would continue as Chief Minister while Panneerselvam would occupy the coveted post of AIADMK general secretary, which was held by J Jayalalithaa till her death last December.
However, Panneerselvam had earlier in the day told journalists nobody had approached him with such a proposal so far.
Asked about speculation in political circles that Sasikala, who is serving a prison term in connection with a disproportionate assets case in which Jayalalithaa was also an accused, was preparing to quit as general secretary, Jayakumar said, "There is no such thing."
Law Minister C V Shanmugam termed it as "a lie".
Shanmugam said since Dhinakaran was in Bengaluru for a meeting with Sasikala, the merger issue will be discussed on his return here.
On Panneerselvam's stand that Sasikala's family should not be a part of the party, Jayakumar evaded a direct answer and said, "The decision of the last party cadre is the decision of the party and all of us."
He said, "We will get the two-leaves symbol for sure as it is the desire of all the party workers." The election symbol is seen as part of Jayalalithaa's enduring legacy.
The Election Commission had frozen the two-leaves symbol after both Panneerselvam and Sasikala-Dhinakaran factions staked claim to it ahead of the now countermanded April 12 byelection to RK Nagar assembly constituency.
Jayakumar also said the submission of affidavits of district-level party workers to the Election Commission in the symbol dispute was discussed at the meeting.
On the possibility of meeting Panneerselvam to take forward the merger proposal, he said "For everything there is a time."
When a reporter pointed out that Panneerselvam had been demanding a probe into the circumstances surrounding the death of Jayalalithaa, and if it was to be made a condition for merger, he shot back, asking "Did he (Panneerselvam) spell out this as a condition?"
Another senior Minister and a heavy weight of the party in the western region, S P Velumani said "For sure we will be united, and retrieve the two-leaves symbol."
"Those who exited (Panneerselvam and his followers) are also part of our family. It is like a fight between two brothers. Together we will get back the two-leaves symbol," he said.
There was reportedly unease in Tamil Nadu's ruling party ever since Income Tax officials raided Health Minister Vijayabaskar's premises and seized evidence of bribing voters for the bypoll to R K Nagar assembly seat.
The poll, scheduled for April 12, was countermanded by the Election Commission on April 9 amid allegations of rampant inducement and bribing of voters.
Dhinakaran was the candidate of AIADMK (Amma) faction for the seat. He was earlier in the day booked by the Delhi police after it arrested an alleged middleman who, according to police, was purportedly helping the AIADMK leader reach out to an unidentified official in the Election Commission in return for an astounding Rs 50 crore.
No arrest warrant has been issued against Dhinakaran. But police have in their custody Sukesh Chandrasekhar, the alleged middleman who was picked from a 5-star hotel in New Delhi yesterday, a senior police official said.
Sasikala had reinducted Dhinakaran, who was expelled from the AIADMK by Jayalalithaa, and appointed him the party's deputy general secretary just before proceeding to Bengaluru to serve the remnant of her jail term after the Supreme Court upheld her conviction and sentence in February this year.