The battle lines have been drawn in RK Nagar – the Assembly seat that was twice represented by late Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa.
The April 12 bye-poll in Chennai’s RK Nagar constituency may be a fight for Jayalalithaa’s legacy, but it could very well become a do-or-die battle for VK Sasikala’s AIADMK. And with the political risks high, Sasikala’s nephew and AIADMK Deputy General Secretary TTV Dhinakaran’s decision to throw his hat in the ring has definitely raised the stakes.
But is fielding TTV Dhinakaran in Jayalalithaa’s constituency political suicide or a masterstroke?
“Sasikala’s faction has much more to lose than anyone else in the bye-polls. A loss in RK Nagar will mean Sasikala’s AIADMK will face a far greater problem. Dhinakaran has no choice, he’s going for broke. If he doesn’t take the plunge, if he doesn’t lead from the front, the party is gone for him. The government may not last,” observes RK Radhakrishnan, Associate Editor of Frontline.
Writer and political commentator Gnani Sankaran, however, sees the former MP’s decision to contest as inevitable. “It’s not a masterstroke. It is inevitable for him. They are planning to make him Chief Minister. AIADMK is run by Sasikala. Just as Jayalalithaa had O Panneerselvam as her nominee, so too Sasikala has Edappadi Palaniswami. He can be removed at any time. She wants the family to hold the party,” says Gnani.
But the road to RK Nagar may be particularly bumpy for TTV Dhinakaran. With former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam staking claim to AIADMK’s two-leaves, the Election Commission is likely to freeze the party symbol. This could very well hurt Dhinakaran’s chances in the polls.
“If the two-leaves symbol is frozen it would affect Dhinakaran, and the DMK is likely to gain from this,” points out Gnani.
And while TTV Dhinakaran’s candidature for the RK Nagar polls may have come as a surprise to many, the DMK’s choice has also raised eyebrows. The opposition party has chosen to field local leader Maruthuganesh over Shimla Muthuchozhan, who took on Jayalalithaa in the 2016 Assembly Elections. While Maruthuganesh is DMK’s RK Nagar east division secretary, will his political inexperience cost him at the polling booth?
“DMK is playing it cool by not fielding a senior person,” notes Radhakrishnan, adding, “It’s a good move by the DMK.” Gnani, however, disagrees stating that the opposition party should have fielded Shimla Muthuchozhan, who would be a more recognized face in the constituency.
But it’s the electoral arithmetic that the DMK may be banking on to see them to victory. RK Nagar is likely to see a multi-party contest with Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa Jayakumar in the fray and OPS likely to field a candidate. As a result, Radhakrishnan argues that the AIADMK vote is likely to be split three-ways. He notes, “The DMK polled a vote share of 31% in the 2016 Assembly Elections, while AIADMK had 40%. If AIADMK’s vote share gets split, then it’s advantage DMK. It also has the only identifiable party symbol, if the EC freezes the two-leaves.”
As voters of RK Nagar in North Chennai ready themselves for the third election in three years, whispers of money power playing a role in the bye-poll are getting louder. “There’s no doubt, this will be harvest season for RK Nagar. It will definitely be a different election,” says Radhakrishnan.