After breathing fire against former AIADMK General Secretary VK Sasikala, Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam’s (OPS) seemingly soft stand in a recent interview has taken many by surprise. Saying that he never had doubts over Sasikala in relation to Jayalalithaa’s death, OPS said she will be allowed to rejoin the party if she accepts its democratic set-up. So what caused this dramatic change in position? TNM spoke to several sources in AIADMK on whether this new stance was the party stand or OPS’ personal one. Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s strong objection to Sasikala remains unaltered and he reportedly expressed this to OPS categorically in a meeting the two had in Dindigul. While there is no official diktat by the CMO banning party leaders including OPS from speaking about Sasikala, it is frowned upon, said the source. But the AIADMK Coordinator, knowing fully well the anti-Sasikala sentiments made overtures, keeping his political future in mind. It also served another purpose--to express his displeasure at being sidelined by EPS and he chose to articulate this by hitting the CM where it hurts the most. Read: Why OPS has been largely missing from AIADMK’s campaign OPS’ constituency of Bodinayakanur has a large number of Thevar votes, the community that both Sasikala and OPS belong to. And many Thevar leaders across the state have started perceiving Sasikala as a victim of circumstance, greatly worrying OPS, a source told TNM. Those advising OPS worry that even after her announcement to step away from politics, if she is being vilified, it could backfire into making her a unanimous leader of the Thevars. And this could immensely take away any political prospects of OPS. In Bodinayakanur, OPS is already facing a tough fight from DMK’s Thanga Tamilselvan who was formerly with the AIADMK, then with the AMMK, and has been for long OPS’ bête noire. Along with OPS, Thanga Tamilselvan as well as AMMK’s M Muthusamy belong to Mukulathor community, effectively splitting the votes further. The 10.5% internal quota for Vanniyars in education and employment within the Most Backward Classes and the new law to club the seven sub-castes under the Devendrakula Vellalar name have upset caste equations in Tamil Nadu and there is anger from several dominant castes against the AIADMK government. A sub-caste of Mukulathor--Piramalai Kallars--have been vocal against the 10.5% reservation for the Vanniyars as it directly impacts them, leaving them and other MBC with just 9.5% of the MBC quota. Sasikala’s nephew and AMMK chief TTV Dhinakaran has been attacking the EPS government over the issue of alloting exclusive internal reservation to the Vanniyars. But he has also personally targeted the Deputy CM saying that the government's decision was a betrayal to the Thevars and one of their own, OPS, has been complicit. So OPS’s statement effectively is to ensure that his vote base remains loyal to him and also to reduce the impact of AMMK. Read: BJP was not consulted on AIADMK poll promise to drop CAA: CT Ravi to TNM And in the long-term, if the AIADMK witnesses a change in leadership, with Sasikala back at the helm, which is a scenario many in the AIADMK are not completely ruling out, OPS would want to continue keeping all options open. After all, Sasikala, who is barred from contesting elections for six more years, may even favour OPS over her nephew TTV Dhinakaran as the Deputy CM isn’t as feisty a contender and will be more amicable to several other party leaders. So the man who led the rebellion against Sasikala now willing to accommodate her displays his political survivor skills and is also an indication that the AIADMK is not as united as they try to portray.