AIADMK at 50: Are the ‘Two Leaves’ withering?

By Sai Charan

Statues of Former Chief Ministers J. Jayalalithaa (left) and M.G.Ramachandran (right) at the AIADMK headquarters, Chennai.

Chennai: Nearly 50 years after it was first founded, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, seems to be foundering because of its electoral defeat and the leadership crisis, according to political experts. The party is looking for the replenishment that spring must surely bring.

Popular as the “Two Leaves party” after its election symbol, the new growth promised by the party symbol seems very far. This was on the back of an unprecedented 2016 win when the party got as many as 138 out of the total 234 assembly seats. The then Chief Minister J.Jayalalithaa bucked the anti-incumbency wave.

In 2021, the party lost the panchayat and the Tamil Nadu assembly elections, winning only 66 of the 191 assembly seats it contested. Comparing the 2016 and 2021 poll performances, AIADMK lost nearly half of the seats to its rival DMK.

But, this is not the party’s worst electoral showing. In 1996, it won only 4 out of the 168 seats contested with the then Chief Minister and Party Leader J.Jayalalithaa losing her seat. The party came back to power in 2001 by winning 132 out of 141 seats it contested, giving credence to the ‘Phoenix bird’ analogy. According to Greek mythology, the mythical phoenix bird obtains new life by arising from the fire.


“The leadership crisis is not new to the party,” said Political Analyst R.K. Radha Krishnan, “it happened after the death M.G.Ramachandran, between MGR’s wife Janaki and his protege J.Jayalalithaa”. Eventually, Jayalalithaa emerged as MGR’s successor. 

The current leadership crisis was precipitated by Jayalalithaa’s close aide V.K. Sasikala also referred as ‘Chinamma’ by her loyalists (Jayalalithaa is referred to as ‘Amma’), after coming back from Jail. Both Jayalalithaa and Sasikala were convicted in the disproportionate assets case and sentenced to jail for four years.

(L to R) V.K. Sasikala, O.Panneerselvam and Edapadi K. Palanisamy on 2017.  Image source: PTI

Sasikala’s return created ripples inside the party. On Monday, her loyalists mentioned her as the ‘General Secretary’ (the leader) of the party when she hoisted the party flag at MGR’s residence to commemorate the start of the Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior office-bearer from Sasikala’s camp said, “There is a vacuum in terms of leadership since it was Chinnamma (Sasikala) who was with Amma(Jayalalithaa) and due to that she is capable of providing the same style of leadership and discipline that a party needs. OPS & EPS is akin to two wheels going in different directions, only a matter of time it will sustain. The future of AIADMK under the able leadership of Chinnamma, a woman will work for the welfare of the people of TN with special focus on marginalised group.”

Rejecting the conflicts within the party S.Semmalai, a five-time MLA and AIADMK’s organising secretary said, “There is no problem in the party, our leaders OPS & EPS are working round the clock to improve the party’s performance in the next elections”.

Semmalai who is a Former Minister for School Education and Health in Jayalalithaa’s cabinet is among the few AIADMK leaders who built the party since its formation in 1972. He said, “Thalaivar (MGR) built a party on a barren ground with a strong foundation. During the leadership of Amma (Jayalalithaa), the party’s membership rose from 17 Lakhs in 1987 to 1.5 crores in 2014. The glory of Thalaivar (MGR) and Amma (Jayalalithaa) will drive the party to many years”.

Semmalai also said that the ups and downs are part of politics, AIADMK suffered the worst defeats before, but we rose back as a “phoenix bird.”

“Ideally a non-corrupt, mass leader who understands the feelings of the cadres is the need of the hour,” said Political Analyst, R.K. Radha Krishnan. He also said, “Sasikala may try to become the leader of the party, but she cannot contest in elections for the next six years as per the court verdict”.

Radha Krishnan also said that usually, the leader of the party and the government should be the same person so that power is consolidated on a single hand to avoid internal tussles. In this 50th year, if AIADMK fails to understand the pulse of the people there is no possibility of winning the upcoming elections.