Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam’s son is the sole AIADMK MP in the Lower House of the Parliament.

As Vellore Lok Sabha election looms closer AIADMK desperate for a win
news Politics Thursday, August 01, 2019 - 18:33

On April 16 this year, just two days before the state went to polls, the Election Commission of India (ECI) cancelled the election to the Vellore Parliamentary constituency in Tamil Nadu. This, after over Rs 10 crore in cash was seized from the properties of DMK leaders in the district, and the home of DMK candidate Kathir Anand was raided. 

Over three months later, the poll cancellation has become the central talking point of the AIADMK campaign in the district with the DMK becoming a direct target. The polls, to be held on August 5, are of particular interest to the party, and to Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami (EPS), who has been busy on the campaign trail. “Were the polls cancelled because of us? asked an unusually animated Chief Minister at a public rally, as the crowd cheered. “Stalin is hiding the truth and lying to you. The polls were cancelled because cash bundles meant to bribe voters were retrieved from the homes of those close to him,” he declared. 

For the AIADMK, it’s also a question of saving face at the Centre. They currently have just one MP in the Lok Sabha – Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam’s son OP Raveendranath Kumar. They want to win Vellore, because two is obviously better than one. 

Desperate for a win

But analysts say that a win in Vellore may not be easy for AIADMK. In the last three elections, the seat has been won by AIADMK once, and by DMK ally IUML twice. In the 2019 bye-polls, both Gudiyatham and Ambur Assembly constituencies, that come under the Vellore Parliamentary constituency, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the DMK. In the 2016 Assembly elections, AIADMK Minister Nilofer Kafeel was elected from the Vaniyambadi seat while MLA Loganathan won the KV Kuppam reserved constituency. The DMK bagged the Anaicut and Vellore city constituencies.

This time, businessman-turned-politician AC Shanmugam is the AIADMK candidate in the polls. The founder of the Puthiya Needhi Katchi, Shanmugam is also the chancellor of the Dr MGR Educational and Research Institute in Chennai. Contesting on the AIADMK’s ‘two-leaves’ symbol, he is up against DMK Treasurer Durai Murugan’s son M Kathir Anand. 

Speaking to TNM, Associate Editor of Frontline RK Radhakrishnan says that the candidate this time is not a traditional AIADMK man. “AC Shanmugam has his own party. It will be very difficult for the AIADMK. More than anything else, it appears that EPS wants to make sure that the margin of defeat is not too huge.”

The senior journalist adds that the AIADMK campaign began on a strong wicket with issues like the appointment of Udayanadhi Stalin as DMK Youth Wing Secretary being used as fodder for attack. “But it steadily deteriorated,” he says. 

Faction factor

In addition to the party having just one MP, for Chief Minister Palaniswami, it is also an MP from the rival camp. This would give the AIADMK and especially, Palaniswami more impetus to work towards a victory. Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam's son OP Raveendranath Kumar has been speaking up on a number of issues in Parliament, often in vociferous support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Recently, his support for the controversial Triple Talaq Bill, in contrast to the party's official stand, deepened differences within the party. Senior leaders of the party said that the state government was still against the Bill. Facing elections in Vellore, a constituency with a large Muslim population, Raveendranath Kumar's speech in support of the Bill criminalising instant divorce among Muslims was seen as an effort to undercut Palaniswami's efforts.

"The Chief Minister has been campaigning vigorously in Vellore. At such a time, when we hear a speech regarding a contentious issue, we know what is happening and who is behind it," says one AIADMK leader. The AIADMK's Rajya Sabha MPs, on the other hand, opposed the Bill in the House but facilitated its passage by walking out before the vote. "While AC Shanmugam is not an AIADMK man, he is a senior leader and won't disrespect the leadership of the party. That comes with maturity," says the party source. 

BJP in the room

Another challenge for the AIADMK is its alliance with the BJP. Top BJP leaders from the state have been missing in action during the campaign – and for good reason, say analysts. Given the fact that 10% of the district is comprised of Muslims, the AIADMK has been wary of BJP presence. The Lok Sabha passed the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Bill as well as the Triple Talaq Bill recently, both accused of targetting young Muslim men. While the DMK-Congress alliance opposed and yet voted for the former, they opposed and voted against the latter. 

“The AIADMK supporting the Triple Talaq is significant, voters are politically aware here. Tamil Nadu did not vote for the DMK – they voted for the DMK because they hate the BJP. If people are upset with what is happening in the country, they will vote against the government,” Radhakrishnan says.

A senior AIADMK leader says, “The alliance with the BJP proved too costly for us in the Lok Sabha polls. Everybody knows this. However, with the BJP forming the government at the Centre for a second time, we hope the people would also think about whether their MP will be part of the ruling alliance or the opposition benches. Tamil Nadu has always had a soft spot for Congress but now that they seem to be politically crushed, they will consider if it is worth electing a DMK MP.”

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