The by-election for the Erode East Assembly constituency in the Kongu region, is scheduled for 27 February. This was necessitated by the untimely demise of sitting Congress MLA Thirumaran Everaa, the son party leader EVKS Elangovan.
The election has come as an opportune moment for two All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) factions, led by Edappadi K. Palaniswami (EPS) and O. Panneerselvam (OPS), to individually assert themselves as the supreme leaders of their party.
But why is the AIADMK divided? Panneerselvam, the expelled leader, is locked in a leadership battle with AIADMK chief Edappadi Palaniswami. The power struggle began soon after former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa’s demise in 2016.
Earlier, OPS had opposed Jaya's confidante, Sasikala, after which EPS was nominated to become the Chief Minister of the state. However, in a turn of events, OPS and EPS soon united, sidelined Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran, and took control of the party. Reflecting the ever-changing nature of politics and the fight for power, EPS and OPS later started to compete with each other.
EPS vs OPS: The EPS faction convinced the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) led by GK Vasan, to give up the seat for AIADMK. OPS too has announced that his faction will contest the by-election. However, in an attempt to seek support from the BJP, OPS has said that his faction is prepared to back a BJP candidate in the by-election if the national party intends to contest.
On 21 January, the two AIADMK factions, led by EPS and OPS, paid a visit to the Tamil Nadu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters, Kamalayalam, on Chennai's Vaidyaraman street, to seek the national party's support.
What has the BJP said? On 22 January, BJP state vice president and former MP KP Ramalingam suggested that the two factions led by OPS and EPS reach an agreement so that the AIADMK and BJP can win the Erode East Assembly seat together.
With respect to the alliance, there seem to be a slight divergence between the BJP's state and national leadership. BJP's state leadership, especially Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai, is seeing the bypoll as an opportunity to assert themselves.
On the other hand, the party's national leadership doesn't want to upset the AIADMK in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
What has the DMK decided to do? However, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led (DMK) alliance is devoid of any such confusion. The DMK has allotted the seat to Congress after the national party’s leaders, including the candidate and former state president of the Tamil Nadu Congress, EVKS Elangovan, visited DMK headquarters and held talks with Chief Minister MK Stalin.
Even though the Congress had won the seat in the 2021 Assembly elections, the AIADMK-led alliance had dominated the Kongu region despite its defeat in the state.
Will the DMK-led alliance have the upper hand given that they are the ruling party, will BJP support the OPS or EPS faction or will it field its own candidate? One thing is certain: the fight for Erode East is going to be one of the most fascinating political battles in Tamil Nadu this year.