Key Dhinakaran aide quits AMMK, joins DMK

(Eds: Adds details; more Dhinakaran quotes) Chennai, Dec 14 (PTI) In what could be perceived as a setback to AMMK founder TTV Dhinakaran, one of his key aides quit the party and joined the MK Stalin-led DMK Friday. Dhinakaran, however, put up a brave face, wishing his former aide V Senthil Balaji, one of the 18 disqualified AIADMK MLAs, all the best in his new stint. Balaji joined the DMK in the presence of its president Stalin at the party headquarters Anna Arivalayam here, and trained guns at the ruling AIADMK. The Karur strongman called AIADMK a 'sinking ship' but avoided any strong criticism of Dhinakaran. In September 2017, Cumbum MLA S T K Jakkaiyan had quit the Dhinakaran faction and extended support to Chief Minister K Palaniswami. Balaji's defection assumes significance as it comes amid reports that Dhinakaran is finding it hard to keep his flock together in the backdrop of the October 25 Madras High Court verdict upholding Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker P Dhanapal's order disqualifying 18 AIADMK MLAs. Dhanapal disqualified them last year for revolting against Palaniswami. Reports claim that not all the disqualified MLAs are happy with Dhinakaran's decision to not to appeal against the Madras High Court order upholding their disqualification. Balaji, Transport Minister in the previous 2011-16 AIADMK government headed by the late J Jayalalithaa, was elected from Aravakurichi in the Assembly polls held in 2016. But he was not inducted in the cabinet then. Balaji had represented Karur in 2006 and 2011. Balaji said he joined DMK 'inspired' by Stalin's performance, adding the DMK leader was steadfast in taking on the ruling AIADMK as well as the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre. He also hailed Stalin's leadership qualities. "I joined DMK respecting the aspirations of people of Karur district. The AIADMK government by Palaniswami and (deputy chief minister) O Panneerselvam is anti-people and only toes the BJP's line," he told reporters after formally joining the DMK. The AIADMK was a "sinking ship" with more functionaries wanting to quit it and join DMK, he said. People will not only vote for DMK in the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 but give the mandate to the party and make Stalin the chief minister in the next Assembly elections due in 2021, Balaji said. Asked about Dhinakaran, Balaji only indicated that he was not in favour of certain decisions taken by the former. He refrained from making any other comment on the AMMK founder. Responding to Balaji's defection, Dhinakaran said he was not really worried about it, and wished his former aide well, adding that nobody can be held back. "Engirunthalum vaazhga," he said in Tamil, meaning "prosper wherever you are." He also called Balaji a "good younger brother," but denied his quitting the AMMK will affect the party's future prospects. "A people's movement will not be affected by the defection of some persons," he said. "The fact that DMK makes it (Balaji's joining) such a big event says it all. Ever since they lost deposit in RK Nagar elections, they have been wanting do something," he said. Dhinakaran trumped candidates of the ruling AIADMK and the DMK in the December 2017 RK Nagar bypoll, with the opposition DMK candidate forfeiting the deposit amount. The election was held to fill the vacancy created by the death of Jayalalithaa in 2016. Dhinakaran said he would not have bothered Balaji if he joined the AIADMK. "Wouldn't have been surprised if he had joined EPS (Palaniswami). How can he join DMK as anti-DMK feeling is in our blood. DMK had filed the case against Amma," he said alluding to the disproportionate case against Jayalalithaa. He recalled Balaji informing him some months back that he will "stay away" from party activities due to "personal issues." On Thursday, Dhinakaran had made a veiled attack on Balaji, saying none will repent if some with selfish interests were to quit the AMMK. Dhinakaran, comparing dedicated party workers to "true gold," said no one will repent if gold plated "fake" were to move out of the party. "Our foundation is Amma's (Jayalalithaa) ideals, and people's welfare is our task," he had said. Without naming Balaji, he said it would be better if those who held views contrary to the goals of the party eased themselves out of the outfit. Considered to be among those close to Dhinakaran, Balaji, who was AMMK organising secretary, did not take part in a party procession here to observe the death anniversary of Jayalalithaa on December 5. PTI SA SS INDIND