CHENNAI:  Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam confirmed a long-speculated role played by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP in the days ahead of his decision to merge his faction with the one led by Chief Minister E Palaniswami. Prime Minister Narendra Modi told me "To save party you should merge both AIADMK factions."

At an AIADMK meeting in Tamil Nadu's Theni on Friday, O Panneerselvam or OPS told the party workers that it was PM Modi on whose advice he agreed to merge the two faction of AIADMK and join the government as a minister, shifting from his earlier demand for the top job. The issue came up during a courtesy meeting he had with PM Modi in New Delhi last year, he said.

"He (Modi) said that you (Panneerselvam) could join (merge the faction) to save the party and under the present circumstances, the two [factions] should merge to save the party," Mr Panneerselvam said. He, however, did not specify when the conversation took place.

The merger of the two AIADMK factions took place in August 2016.

Mr Panneerselvam, who had become Tamil Nadu chief minister after the death of AIADMK matriarch J Jayalalithaa in December 2016, said he told the prime minister he did not want any post in the government.

"I agreed but said that I will not become a minister and will only take party position. PM said 'no no, you should be a minister and continue with politics,' and that is why I am a minister today," he said, further stressing that "I have no desire to be a minister. Amma (Jayalalithaa) made me MLA four times and chief minister twice. That honour itself is enough for me," he said.

OPS took over as chief minister twice-- in 2001 and later in 2014-- when Jayalalithaa was convicted in two different cases. In 2014, Jayalalithaa and her long-time friend VK Sasikala were convicted in the Rs. 66.66 crore disproportionate assets case.

Mr Panneerselvam, who revolted against Ms Sasikala and her family last year after allegedly being forced to make way for her elevation to the chief ministers post, charged that her family members tried to work for his defeat in the 2016 polls. Ms Sasikala, however, could not become the chief minister as she was convicted by the Supreme Court in a corruption case.

"If anyone else had faced this amount of crisis and problems, they would have committed suicide or would have left the party. (But) I tolerated everything for Amma," he said.

The BJP is believed to have invested heavily in reuniting AIADMK to gain political space in Tamil Nadu, which has always oscillated between the regional rivals AIADMK and DMK.

COMMENTSSenior AIADMK leader and minister D Jayakumar, according to the Press Trust of India,  declined to comment on Mr Panneerselvam's remarks, saying they could have been made during a one-on-one between PM Modi and OPS.

The BJP's state unit also declined to comment on the development.


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