Chennai: Tamil Nadu's ruling AIADMK was locked in an ugly war within on Wednesday as acting Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam vowed to stay put in office while party General Secretary V.K. Sasikala accused him of trying to split the party with DMK's backing.
A night after Panneerselvam revolted against Sasikala, who had been elected the AIADMK legislature wing leader, the long-time confidante of former Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa accused Panneerselvam of "betrayal" after he refused to back her plans to head the government.
On his part, Panneerselvam announced that a Supreme Court judge will head a Commission of Inquiry to probe the December 5 demise of Jayalalithaa. He said there were many questions over the death.
Asked if he would stake claim to form the government as Chief Minister again, he told the media: "Wait and see."
Both camps claim majority support among the AIADMK's 134 legislators in Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao is expected to play a key role in resolving the crisis -- or recommend President's Rule in the state.
The MLAs backing Sasikala were ferried to secret locations, informed sources said.
On Tuesday night, Panneerselvam, who on Sunday resigned as Chief Minister after Sasikala was elected the AIADMK legislature party leader, claimed he was forced to quit by Sasikala. He said he was threatened.
Addressing AIADMK MLAs at the party headquarters, Sasikala accused Panneerselvam of committing an "evil act" by covertly aligning with the DMK to undermine the ruling party.
"Nobody will believe that I forced him to resign as Chief Minister. Not the people, nor the (AIADMK) cadres.
"This is a deceitful plan of the DMK," she said, referring to DMK leader M.K. Stalin's opposition to her attempts to become the Chief Minister.
"For the last two months, Panneerselvam has been collaborating with opposition forces but I ignored all that."
Referring to his decision to oppose her, Sasikala asked: "Why did he keep quiet all these days? Was he being backed by the DMK?
"I faced so many betrayals in the 33 years I have lived with Amma," she said, referring to the iconic Jayalalithaa. "I have overcome all those and we will overcome this one too... I swear this in the name of Amma."
Speaking in an aggressive tone to repeated rounds of applause, Sasikala said the "enemies" of the AIADMK would be defeated. "The AIADMK won't break, nor will I break."
The AIADMK said Panneerselvam's revolt was fuelled by "other forces". A party spokesperson said the BJP and the central government were fishing in troubled waters.
Panneerselvam said an interim General Secretary can't dismiss him from a party post after the AIADMK sacked him as the party Treasurer.
He said Sasikala was elected an interim General Secretary in the interest of the party and a permanent General Secretary can be elected only by all the party members.
He welcomed Deepa Jayakumar, a niece of Jayalalithaa bitterly opposed to Sasikala, to join hands with him.
Meanwhile, former AIADMK MP K.C. Palaniswamy said party cadres would unleash a movement to retrieve the AIADMK headquarters, Jaya TV as well as the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa from the "occupiers".
He told IANS that Panneerselvam legally continued to be the Treasurer and claimed that there would be a steady flow of people opposed to Sasikala from the AIADMK.
"Panneerselvam will become the Chief Minister again," Palaniswamy said.
On Tuesday, former Tamil Nadu assembly Speaker P.H. Pandian and his son and former Rajya Sabha member Manoj Pandian alleged that Jayalalithaa died an "unnatural" death.
Manoj Pandian also claimed that Jayalalithaa once told him that she may be poisoned to death.