Sunday saw a shake-up in Tamil Nadu politics as TTV Dhinakaran won relatively easily in the RK Nagar bypoll in Chennai. This could signal a fracturing in the factions within the party in particular and might cast a doubt on the DMK’s chances going forward. The rebel leader of the AIADMK declared himself to be “real successor of Amma” after clinching victory by a 40,000 vote margin.
The Hindu editorial spelled out how the results of the bypoll spell political instability for Tamil Nadu in the months to come –
“What the runaway victory of Mr. Dhinakaran does is sow the seeds of confusion in the ranks of the AIADMK; it even has the potential to bring down the government led by Edappadi K. Palaniswami”.
“The R.K. Nagar result could set off another round of churn in the AIADMK; many of the MLAs may now see the Sasikala family as the only force that could keep the party together and command wider voter support. The worst-case scenario for the DMK was a victory for the official AIADMK candidate E. Madhusudhanan”.
This is the first election to be held after the death of former Chief Minister and AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa last December. With respect to the AIADMK, this victory for Dhinakaran could shake things up for the ruling faction headed by chief minister K Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneeerselvam.
column for the Hindustan Times, points out the significance of the victory –
“He succeeded in making himself the focus of the campaign. Smiling and unflappable under pressure (he was seen performing a puja during the recent IT raids against him), his leadership qualities and composure stood out”.
“The principal opposition party suffered the humiliation of losing its deposit in a seat in Chennai for the first time in more than 50 years, raising doubts about its claim to be the party-in-waiting to form the next government”.
Regarding what this wins means for the ruling party which has 3 years left to be in power; Dhinakaran could offer a compromise between the two factions within the party.
“The AIADMK government has more than three years left in office and TTV would gain nothing by pulling it down. A compromise formula can see him wield greater power in the party and the government. It will also give him time to consolidate his position”.
RK Nagar has long been a bastion for the AIADMK in general and the late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in particular. While DMK remained popular in Chennai, RK Nagar was one constituency that could not be touched. This district has largely remained backward with little to no development for decades. A majority of the voters are daily wage earners and fisherfolk, with the literacy rate being low.
Regarding the DMK’s poor showing, the party constituted a three-member committee to identify the reasons for its failure. The party’s candidate N Maruthu Ganesh placed third securing 24,651 votes. The official reaction to the defeat was blamed on money power used by Dhinakaran. The Deccan Chronicle editorial termed this the most corrupt election ever in the history of Indian polls –
“The fight for the Jaya legacy may have been settled even though its main claimant Sasikala has been convicted making her ineligible to contest polls for 10 years. Fighting her proxy battle, Mr. Dhinakaran managed to win nearly twice as many votes as the official AIADMK”.
In documents seized during an Income Tax raid on the Tamil Nadu health minister's residence, it showed that the AIADMK planned to allegedly distribute Rs 89 crore among the two lakh voters of RK Nagar.
“The RK Nagar voters, who freely imbibed the cash-for-votes, may have made this the most corrupt election ever in the history of Indian polls. And yet they were only reaffirming that graft, among politicians and leaders, is no big issue with the people”.
The party president said in part, “Both the candidates of AIADMK factions spend money in crores in RK Nagar to purchase democracy. The constituency fell victim to money power” The Economic Times editorial stated that the result could provide an opportunity for the DMK –
“That the DMK, fresh out of the 2G verdict, has found itself back in the ring gives it enough elbow room to choose its allies from a more advantageous position, rather than being forced to team up to ward off an existential crisis”.
In an interview to the Tamil news magazine Vikatan, MK Azhagiri, the DMK Secretary of the Southern Regional Division, who was removed from the party after a confrontation with Stalin, strongly criticized the party after its defeat in the RK Nagar bypoll. He said there isn’t anyone in the party willing to do the work for winning elections as there no loyal party people getting behind the leader as he sees it being Karunanadhi.
One of the most surreal aspects of the bypoll happened a day before the vote, where P Vetrivel, an aide to Dhinakaran released a video of the late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in a room looking frail. The election in many ways was about her and her legacy; it revolves around her – the party, the cadre and the politics. Each faction is actively trying to stake claim as the rightful heir to their beloved ‘Amma’.
More columns by Varun Sukumar