Calling RK Nagar the ‘mother’ of all bye-elections, may not be an exaggeration. After all, never in Tamil Nadu’s recent history has a bye-poll witnessed political parties releasing constituency-specific manifestos.
With 62 candidates battling it out for late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s constituency, the stakes are especially high for AIADMK (Amma)’s TTV Dhinakaran. Despite the ruling party having the advantage in most bye-elections, RK Nagar could very well prove otherwise.
As reported by TNM, on the day Dhinarakan’s candidature was announced, there was palpable anger against VK Sasikala’s nephew with many voters continuing to have lingering doubts over Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation and subsequent demise.
And while voter sentiment can change in a matter of days, what are the political ramifications if TTV Dhinakaran were to lose?
The biggest and most significant consequence is the fate of the Edappadi Palaniswami-led government. With 122 MLAs presently supporting the ruling party, it holds a razor-thin majority in the Assembly. The big question is whether a TTV loss at RK Nagar will lead to defections to the rival O Panneerselvam camp.
“AIADMK is in a precarious majority. If seven or eight MLAs move to the OPS faction, the government will collapse,” points out veteran journalist S Murari. He argues that the DMK’s decision to field a lightweight like Maruthu Ganesh may boost the chances of E Madhusudhanan, the OPS faction’s candidate. “Stalin wants the government to fall on its own and that’s why the party has fielded a weak candidate,” he observes.
If Madhusudhanan, who won the RK Nagar Assembly seat in 1991, emerges victorious once again, he could threaten the stability of the ruling party. AIADMK Rajya Sabha MP V Maitreyan, who is batting for the OPS faction, says, “If TTV Dhinakaran loses, it is quite likely that MLAs could defect to our side.”
However, senior journalist R Mani argues that a Dhinakaran defeat may not lead to the government falling. He notes, “No one wants elections. Candidates and parties will have to spend a lot of money once again. Even the DMK doesn’t want another election.” With not even a year having passed since the Assembly Elections in 2016, snap polls would be the last choice for Tamil Nadu’s parties, he argues.
What Murari and Mani agree upon is the political motive behind Dhinakaran contesting the RK Nagar bye-elections. While it is a do-or-die battle for the former Lok Sabha MP from Periyakulam, a win would most certainly cement his hold over the party. They also both point out that his elevation to the Chief Minister’s chair is guaranteed, if he wins Jayalalithaa’s constituency.
But if he loses, Murari notes, “TTV will go into political oblivion.” Maitreyan concurs, “It would be the end of his political life. With Sasikala in jail, her nephew Dhinakaran has been controlling the party. If he loses the bye-poll, he will lose all control.”
Since Jayalalithaa’s death in December, comparisons have often been made with the political scenario after MG Ramachandran passed away in 1987. The split in the AIADMK, and the freezing of the two leaves symbol by the Election Commission were the most recent parallels. But could history possibly repeat itself when it comes to the merger of the AIADMK?
The 1989 Assembly Elections were most notable for ending the succession battle between MGR’s wife Janaki Ramachandran and his protégé Jayalalithaa. Although the DMK swept the polls, Jayalalithaa’s 27 seats over Janaki’s two seats settled the fight for the AIADMK. Ten days after the election, Janaki not only decided to quit politics altogether, but urged party cadres and leaders to rally behind her rival, so that the two factions could merge.
But Mani notes that there are many differences between the scenarios in 1989 and 2017.
“A merger is ruled out in the present scenario. When MGR died, the party split almost immediately between Jayalalithaa and Janaki. But following Jayalalithaa’s demise, OPS rebelled after two months. Moreover, when Janaki lost the 1989 election, she was magnanimous and withdrew her letter to the Election Commission staking claim to the two leaves symbol. She asked the cadres to support Jayalalithaa, who decently accepted them. The power structure within the AIADMK now will not allow a merger,” explains Mani. He also predicts that the two leaves symbol could potentially be frozen forever.
While the two factions have welcomed rival cadres and leaders with open arms, Murari states, “A merger is unlikely. But if it does happen and Dhinakaran ends up on the losing side, he will be sidelined from the party.”
With less than 10 days to go for the bye-polls, whether RK Nagar will indeed settle the succession battle remains to be seen.