The much-awaited R K Nagar bypoll result in Tamil Nadu has, if any, thrown even more uncertainties and possible disruptions in the ruling dispensation. The prestigious seat previously occupied by the former AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa has been lying vacant for more than a year now after her death, and was being touted as the symbolic seat for “whoever winning”, as the possible successor! Earlier this year after O Panneerselvam led group parted with AIADMK, it was a battle of strength between the two divisions within AIADMK – the OPS and the EPS factions (who was with Sasikala/Dinakaran camp). However, the surprise raids of the Education minister Vijaya Bhaskar, following cues on large scale cash distribution, resulted in the elections getting postponed, and TTV Dinakaran, who was the interim Dy. General Secretary, and the candidate from EPS side, was arrested for trying to influence EC for securing the two-leaf symbol.
This and further cases on Dinakaran, led EPS and his side of MLAs to eventually disown Sasikala and Dinakaran, and merge with OPS faction, barring about 19 MLAs owing loyalty to Dinakaran camp, who also got “disqualified”.
If any, these developments only confirmed that AIADMK, had turned a new leaf after Jayalalithaa, and shrugged off the shadows of “Mannargudi camp” (Sasikala and family) as it was infamously known, and with the new formula of how to run the Government and the Party by both EPS and OPS camps, everyone had almost written off Dinakaran. Further, securing the two-leaf symbol from EC was a shot in the arm for the resurgent merged AIADMK, and their victory in the bypoll was all but sealed with that. However, that wasn’t the case to be. Starting with nominating their candidate (Madhusoodanan of OPS camp), there were internal tussles. Minister Jayakumar of EPS camp had his own candidate to propose, but eventually, the party managed to decide on Madhusoodanan, which kind of meant, OPS was slowly getting an upper-hand in the party. That possibly would have been the case, had he won today. But that wasn’t to be!
Jayalalithaa had won the seat with about 97,000 votes defeating her rival from DMK who secured only about half of her vote share (about 48,000 votes). Surprisingly, fighting the election as an independent, having been side-lined by his own party, fighting all the legal cases, and an eroding MLA support base, with a totally new election symbol of “Pressure cooker“, which was pretty symbolic of his situation and having lost the prestigious two leaf symbol to the merged AIADMK of OPS/EPS, it was TTV Dinakaran who eventually blew the winning whistle! That too with almost the same level of votes, that Amma secured.
Madhusoodanan, the official candidate could manage only about half of it and came second. DMK who fielded a rookie candidate was a distant third at about 24,000 votes, almost half of what they got in the election last year!
The biggest shock has been the erosion of DMK vote share. Being in Chennai city limits, which is their backyard, DMK has not done so badly ever in R K Nagar. With Jayalalithaa gone, and the infighting of AIADMK, and their vote base having been split between official camp and Dinakaran, one would have expected DMK to benefit from this three-pronged fight, as the alternative, as M K Stalin has been hoping for to make his stake for forming the next Government. The unexpected erosion of vote share by them, is now raising doubts about if DMK had an understanding with Dinakaran and if their votes were transferred to him, to cause embarrassment for the ruling dispensation! However, it seems far-fetched, if not totally ruled out, (since they put up a much softer fight) as this has only diminished and weakened Stalin’s tentative attempts to form government and to project himself as a credible alternative to the people, especially in the wake of the latest acquittal of A. Raja and Kanimozhi in the 2G case. So, the biggest setback if any is to DMK in this which lost its deposit and are not even in the reckoning in this constituency.
On the other hand, if we combine the votes that Dinakaran and Madhusoodanan have polled, to see it as a vote for Jayalalithaa, this is one massive mandate for the AIADMK family as a whole given by the people, and should energise the cadres elsewhere in Tamil Nadu who have been listless after the demise of their leader last year and the continued infighting and confusion among the possible successors.
So how does this pan out for AIADMK?
For one, Dinakaran, definitely has his chin up with this victory, and the cadres are already talking about him being the rightful successor to Amma, having won this seat. This would give him and his loyalists new lease of life to garner more support from cadres across the State, and they would definitely work towards that. Already many MLAs in the ruling dispensation are talking about bringing Dinakaran back or even joining him, which would give more headaches for OPS/EPS who are themselves finding it difficult to keep their cadres together without fighting as many even say, that even though the party is merged, the minds haven’t merged yet! However, despite Dinakaran’s tall claim that the government would fall in three months, even he knows, he will lose whatever he has earned now, if he goes that way as it isn’t as easy as that.
This has definitely put OPS in the back-foot, as his candidate who was the official candidate of AIADMK, the Presidium Chairman, and the signatory to their official letters and holder of the two-leaf symbol, who has lost to Dinakaran. Had he won, it would have given more weightage to OPS. There are even rumours that, precisely for this reason, perhaps the EPS camp wouldn’t have wanted Madhusoodanan to win, and there could have been some cross-voting from official AIADMK to Dinakaran to defeat Madhusoodanan. Besides, the video with the purported imagery of Jayalalithaa in hospital having juice was released by Dinakaran loyalist, right before the election, had shaken the roots of one of the conspiracy theories that OPS had been flouting that Sasikala camp were in some way responsible for Jaya’s death and there should be an enquiry on that. The video did play a big role in the election victory for Dinakaran, and more importantly turned the tide of cadre support from OPS. So, it is disadvantage OPS as of now.
That leaves the sole beneficiary out of this as the “cat with nine lives”, CM Edappadi Palaniswamy. If there is someone who could really gain much out of this, it is him.
For one, he has thwarted the attempts by OPS to clinch more power with this defeat of Madhusoodanan. Secondly, he is the CM appointed by Sasikala, so it would not be difficult for him to go back and make a deal with Dinakaran, and keep the entire AIADMK flock together, saying the ultimate mandate by the people of R K Nagar constituency is for that, in the name of Amma. That seems to be the most logical route for AIADMK, to save the near three and a half years of their remaining term, and to convert this defeat into a victory and to keep the cadre morale up.