Panel headed by retired judge to probe Jayalilathaa's death

Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on Thursday announced an inquiry by a commission headed by a retired judge, reviving chances of the two All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) factions led by the chief minister and former chief minister E Palaniswami, respectively, reuniting the party to ward off the powerful Sasikala faction from assuming power.

"A retired Madras High Court judge will head the inquiry commission. Name of the judge and terms of reference will be announced later," he said.

Palaniswami made the announcement at the secretariat. He was flanked by senior ministers Dindigul C Srinivasan and D Jayakumar while making the announcement.

Palaniswami also announced plans to convert former chief minister Jayalilathaa's Poes Garden residence Vedanilayam into a memorial, which, however, was opposed by Jayalilathaa's neice Deepa Jayakumar, who claimed legal rights to the property.

''Various news from various sections and forums are appearing in the media about the death of Puratchi Thalaivi Amma…. An inquiry commission headed by a retired high court judge will be set up to look into the death of Idhaya Deivam (god of heart) Amma,'' the CM said. He added that Jayalalithaa's Poes Garden residence ''Veda Nilayam will be turned into a government memorial and the general public will be allowed entry''.

The announcements also meant that talks between the EPS and OPS factions, which broke down and were revived several times in the last few months, were progressing well and the announcement of a merger is not far off.

The timing of the announcements coincides moves by Sasikala's nephew TTV Dinakaran, the unofficial party head, making all out efforts to assert the Sasikala clan's authority over the party and resist all moves by party groups to oust Sasikala.

In fact, Dinakaran held a massive rally at Mellur near Madurai, a few days ago, in a show of strength with 20 MLAs extending their support.

A reunification of the party, however, also means that Jayalilathaa's niece Deepa Jayakumar, will not have a role to play as Sasikala and her nephew TTA Dinakaran will be effectively out of AIADMK.

While the OPS camp expressed satisfaction at the decisions, sources, however, maintained that a merger could only take place after the complete ouster of V S Sasikala from the party.

After rebelling against the leadership of Sasikala in February, Panneerselvam had raised suspicion over the circumstances of Jayalalithaa's death. His camp had demanded a CBI probe into the matter.

On Thursday, while welcoming the probe announcement, senior leaders K P Munusamy, however, said the merger between the AIADMK factions could happen only when Sasikala and her family are fully ousted from the party.

Surprisingly, Sasikala's nephew TTV Dinakaran, who both factions want ousted, had demanded a judicial probe into Jayalalithaa's death. On Thursday, leaders close to him claimed credit for the announcement of the probe. ''The announcement has come only after a demand was made by our leader Dinakaran, it is welcome,'' Dinakaran loyalist and MLA P Vetrivel said.

The EPS faction has already passed a resolution declaring that the appointment of Dinakaran as the party's deputy general secretary is not acceptable. The OPS camp, on the other hand, wants complete ejection of the family. It has also approached the Election Commission demanding that the posts of Sasikala and Dinakaran be declared invalid in the AIADMK.

The Opposition DMK, meanwhile, described the probe as an eyewash and asked the Tamil Nadu government to order a CBI probe if it was truly interested in unravelling the matter.

DMK working president M K Stalin also demanded the resignation of the CM and his cabinet to facilitate a fair probe by the CBI. Senior DMK leader and Rajya Sabha MP T K S Elangovan said the probe was aimed at easing out Sasikala and her family from politics.