Tamil Nadu's ruling AIADMK on Thursday sacked its Deputy General Secretary T.T.V. Dinakaran, nephew of the jailed General Secretary V.K. Sasikala, in a move aimed at placating the rival faction ahead of a possible merger between the two groups.
The AIADMK announced after a nearly one-hour meeting attended by Chief Minister K. Palaniswami and some 30 ministers and party leaders that Dinakaran's appointment was "improper, unacceptable and invalid", clearing the decks for the unification of the two factions.
An AIADMK statement said Dinakaran's appointment was not done as per rules and declared as null and void all the appointments of office-bearers he had made. It added that Sasikala's own appointment as General Secretary was under the scrutiny of the Election Commission.
While there was no immediate reaction from the rival faction led by former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, a furious Dinakaran hit back.
Dinakaran, made the Deputy General Secretary by Sasikala before she was jailed for corruption, thundered at a press conference: "No one has the right to remove or expel me. Only Sasikala has the power.
"There are some AIADMK leaders who are scared because of the things they have done," he said, and added, in an oblique reference to the BJP: "Also they are scared because of some outside forces."
Panneerselvam have said Sasikala's expulsion was a precondition for the merger of the two AIADMK factions.
The AIADMK used to refer to Sasikala until recently as "Chinnamma". The Thursday statement called her "Respectable Mrs V.K. Sasikala" - a clear sign of her weakening hold in a party she tried to take over after the death in December of then Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa.
Tamil Nadu Finance Minister D. Jayakumar said: "We will have the merger very soon,"
A Panneerselvam aide, K.P. Munusamy, said they were firm on their demand on the expulsion of Sasikala from the AIADMK, a CBI probe into Jayalalitha's death and withdrawal of affidavits submitted to the Election Commission naming Sasikala as General Secretary.
The two factions will have to unite if they need to get back the party's popular "two leaves" election symbol that has been frozen by the Election Commission.
Minus the frozen symbol, AIADMK leaders admit they will have problems taking on the DMK in the upcoming local body polls.
According to AIADMK sources, Chief Minister Palaniswami and Panneerselvam are travelling to Delhi on Thursday to take part in the swearing in ceremony of Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu and may meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The sources say that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been nudging the two factions to unite -- and also join the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance formally.
If a merger takes place, Palaniswami will remain the Chief Minister while Panneerselvam could become the General Secretary in place of Sasikala.
Meanwhile, security has been tightened at the AIADMK headquarters here to foil the possibility of Dinakaran and his supporters trying to take control over it.
An MLA close to Dinakaran, Vetrivel, who attended the AIADMK meeting, challenged the decision to dump Dinakaran.
"Sasikala and Dinakaran cannot be removed from the party," he said. "Nobody can remove the two leaders from their party posts."