India: Will RK Nagar outcome define future of Tamil Nadu politics?
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
With just a few days left for the crucial RK Nagar bypoll in Tamil Nadu, campaigns are gathering momentum in the constituency of former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa and stakes are running high especially for the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) which is now split into three factions, making it difficult for any of the factions to win for AIADMK.
A bypoll was necessitated following Jayalalithaa’s demise on 5 December under mysterious circumstances. RK Nagar in Chennai will see 62 contestants—the highest since its inception in 1967— when the constituency goes to vote on 12 April.
Historically speaking, the incumbent ruling party has always had an advantage in by-elections in Tamil Nadu. But now the ruling AIADMK party does not look confident to retain the seat while Panneerselvam look forward to win it for Jayalalithaa- even public seems to have sympathy for his Puratchithalaivi faction but DMK is all out to outsmart him. Deepa may not have chance to win this time.
The poll is particularly important for the DMK, ruling faction and OPS faction of AIADMK and end game fight is very tensed. Money is being distributed for votes and ruling AIADMK is being blamed for buying votes.
Now that the ruling AIADMK is formally split into AIADMK (Amma) and AIADMK (Puratchithalaivi Amma) and with the EC freezing the party’s two leaves symbol, the traditional AIADMK voters would be weighing between the new symbols—hat and lamp post.
DMK has fielded N. Maruthu Ganesh—the party’s secretary for RK Nagar east division and a journalist with party mouthpiece Dinakaran—as its candidate. While former chief minister O. Panneerselvam camp—AIADMK (Puratchithalaivi Amma) which has been allotted the lamp post—is fielding veteran E. Madhusudhanan as its candidate, the Sasikala faction—AIADMK (Amma) with the hat symbol—has Sasikala’s relative T.T.V. Dinakaran in fray.
According to analysts, the opposition DMK is in a better position amid the confusion within the ruling party. Depending on which faction of AIADMK takes the second and third positions, the future course of the party will unveil. Analysts don’t rule out the possibility of a merger between the two groups even one day before the poll day.
However, Ruling faction is interested in knowing which of the factions would ains more votes will be in a commanding position to bring the party together. Depending on which camp (of the AIADMK) wins or who gains better share of votes, there could be a consolidation or realignment within the two factions of the party.
RK Nagar, Chennai
Traditionally any bypoll is won by the ruling party, but given the political turmoil and chaos over the last three months within AIADMK, the opposition DMK would have an edge.
Dr. Radhakrishnan Nagar, the high-profile constituency in north Chennai that elected former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa twice, is all set to once again choose its legislative representative on April 12. A total of 62 candidates, including eight women, are in the fray in the by-election. The AIADMK has won seven out of 11 times in the constituency in the last 40 years. This time, three candidates are are claiming to be the ‘real face of the AIADMK.’
The late Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa contested from the RK Nagar (Chennai) constituency for the first time in the 2015 by-elections. She chose it again the following year to win the assembly elections. RK Nagar has become Jayalalithaa’s home turf in public perception, even though Srirangam was the Iyengar-Brahmin’ (which is what she was, by birth) constituency, from where she won to become the CM in 2011. Freshly acquitted, wrongly, of any wrongdoing in the disproportionate assets case, Jayalalithaa won by a margin of over 1,50,000 votes in the 2015 by-elections. This might seem like a bonafide celluloid miracle wrought by a party that was born and raised by filmdom, and run by ‘Amma’, who was once ‘Anni’
In 1989, after MGR’s death, the AIADMK split into the Janaki faction and the Jayalalithaa faction. In the ensuing elections, the DMK won hands down, since the votes were split between the two factions and their allies. Both AIADMK factions (Jayalalithaa Vs Janaki) in 1989 laid claim to the ‘two leaves’ symbol.
The AIADMK’s two leaves have – metaphorically speaking – split, into the Sasikala faction and the O Panneerselvam faction. There is the DMK, led by Stalin, and the MGR Amma Deepa Peravai, led by Deepa Jayakumar (Jayalalithaa’s estranged niece). All four parties now seek to fill the legendary and occasionally notorious shoe-rack of Jayalalithaa.
Sasikala’s ADMK, with Edappadi Palanisamy as the chief minister, is by far the most stable party. As the ruling party, they will have access to resources and the machinery to whip up a good campaign- and they are doing that even though public is not impressed. The lack of trust is all thanks to the public angst against Sasikala, who is still seen as a conspirator in Jayalalithaa’s demise.
Political analysts say a win for Dinakaran would assert his position in the party and he could even claim the chief minister’s post. But Mr. Dinakaran had said that Edappadi K. Palaniswami will continue to head the government.
The fate of both Sasikala and Dinakaran’s party posts will be decided by the Election Commission as the rival AIADMK camp has claimed that the appointments are not in line with the party’s constitution. The Enforcement Directorate has imposed a ₹28crore fine on Mr. Dinakaran for money laundering. He is also facing two 20-year-old FERA cases for acquiring foreign exchange from unauthorised dealers.
Votes for currency notes
The Election Commission (EC) is closely monitoring the bypoll. Following a complaint by opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the EC ordered the transfer of Chennai police commissioner S. George. It has also transferred almost all the officials involved in the RK Nagar bypoll, appointed as many as five observers—the highest-ever for a constituency in the country—and deployed two IAS and two IPS officers on night patrol until the polling is over.
Meanwhile, income tax officals have raided the residences and offices of many important people in Chennai and elsewhere, including ministers, VC of MGR University. Money and documents shave been reportedly recovered from them.
Ahead of RK Nagar by-poll In Tamil Nadu, 15 Lakh seized and 28 men arrested. Public says money Rs500 and 200 are bribed for each vote and a lot of money is being distributed to voters even in public. Reports suggest around Rs. 15 lakh was seized and 28 persons were arrested on Wednesday for their alleged roles in various incidents of money distribution to voters and violence in the run up to the April 12 RK Nagar assembly bypoll. Authorities said seizure of Rs. 14.92 lakh was made by EC’s flying squads and static surveillance teams in RK Nagar where bypoll was necessitated due to former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s death.
The day also saw the Election Commission ordering transfer of 22 police officials, including two IPS officers, out of RK Nagar even as the opposition parties lodged complaints with Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer Rajesh Lakhoni against the alleged distribution of money to voters by the AIADMK’s VK Sasikala faction. While three AIADMK activists (VK Sasikala’s Amma faction) were arrested for allegedly attacking DMK cadres over a row, 25 others were arrested on the basis of 15 cases registered for alleged distribution of money to voters, police said.
The attack on DMK men was over a row related to the alleged money distribution. Meanwhile, videos of alleged money distribution in RK Nagar and markings made in the area to facilitate it are doing the rounds in social media and messaging app Whatsapp.
Commenting on the alleged money distribution, PMK chief Ramadoss demanded countermanding of RK Nagar bypoll and said it should be held after the cash distribution’s impact faded. The bypoll should be held by drafting officers only from outside Tamil Nadu and by deploying Central police forces, he said. EC replaced Additional Police Commissioner (North) MC Sarangan with H M Jayaram (now IGP, Operations) besides 21 other police personnel.
Meanwhile DMK Rajya Sabha MP, RS Barathi in a petition to Chief Electoral Officer Rajesh Lakhoni said, “The ruling party (Dinakaran faction) is planning to continue the illegal distribution of money to voters. We, herewith, enclose proof of the illegal distribution of money.” He demanded steps to stop it. Former Minister KP Munusamy of O Panneerselvam-led faction too petitioned the CEO on the matter.
Anger toward ruling Sasikala AIADMK
As the fight over the seat started, AIADMK spokesperson CR Saraswathi, who was campaigning at the 42nd ward in support of VK Sasikala’s nephew and party deputy general secretary TTV Dinakaran, had slippers and tomatoes thrown at her.
The whole of Tamil Nadu is concentrating on the upcoming RK Nagar by-election, which is now being considered as the zone that will decide the future course of politics in the state. As the fight over the seat started, AIADMK spokesperson CR Saraswathi, who was campaigning at 42nd ward in support of VK Sasikala’s nephew and party deputy general secretary TTV Dinakaran, had slippers and tomatoes thrown at her. Saraswathi was heard screaming, “You are throwing stones and slippers at me. Is this right? We’ve come to ask for your votes but you’re throwing slippers at us!”
Team EPS and team OPS have been hurling allegations at one another, with Dinakaran accusing the rebel party faction led by O Panneerselvam of manipulating its poll symbol of electricity pole as ‘two leaves’. Not to be outdone, team OPS blamed team EPS of distributing money for votes.
And in support to the claim by team OPS, a man was yesterday arrested for distributing money for vote, and what apparently gave him away was his flashy ‘hat’ (symbol for team EPS) carrying the AIADMK flag’s color. Already many videos have gone viral on social media where people had altercation with such money distributors.
Candidates and promises
Every candidate has come out with certain promises but the ruling AIADMK and Panneerselvam faction have put forward interesting promises.
Dhinakaran, the candidate from team EPS for the by-elections, has promised people that should he win, 57,000 house would be constructed for RK Nagar residents. Team OPS, which is fielding Madhusudhanan as its candidate, has on the other hand promised a judicial inquiry into Jayalalitha’s death within a week of their victory, and to also turn the late TN Chief Minister’s house into a memorial. When asked how their promises are related to RK Nagar victory, they said that whoever wins the by-poll, will control the party and by the government.
An AIADMK veteran, E. Madhusudhanan was the party’s presidium chairman. He has contested in R.K. Nagar four times and represented the constituency in the Assembly during 1991-96, the first tenure of Jayalalithaa as Chief Minister. Madhusudhanan was convicted and later acquitted in a free dhoti-saree scam during his term as Handloom Minister. He has some 19 criminal cases pending against him, which he claims were politically motivated. When Madhusudhanan switched to former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam’s side, Sasikala dismissed him from the party. Maintaining that he is still the party’s presidium chairman, Madhusudhanan ‘expelled’ Sasikala. . Madhusudhanan is a strong Jayalalithaa loyalist and stayed with her when the AIADMK split into Jaya and Janaki factions in 1989. He has been associated with the AIADMK since the party was formed and is a North Chennai strongman. He is contesting using the ‘Electric Pole’ symbol under party name ‘AIADMK Puratchi Thalaivi Amma’.
The DMK has fielded N. Marudhu Ganesh as its party’s candidate. A journalist-turned-politician, Mr. Ganesh is the party’s area secretary of R.K Nagar (East) unit and belongs to a family of DMK cardholders. Ganesh hopes that his introduction to the local people as a Dinakaran journalist will work in his favour. R. Loganathan is the CPI(M)’s candidate. But the CPI and the VCK, alliance partners of the People’s Welfare Front, have declined to support his candidature. Loganathan is a member of the party’s North Chennai district Executive Committee. The party is banking on the sizeable working class population in the constituency.
- Mathivanan is DMDK’s North Chennai District Secretary. He lost to Mr. M.K. Stalin in the 2016 Assembly elections. As a resident of Kodungaiyur,he is pinning hopes on voters to elect a ‘local person.’ Film director-turned-politician Seeman’s Naam Thamizhar Katchi has fielded Kalaikottudhayam as its candidate. Kalaikottudhayam runs a Tamil news channel called Tamizhan TV and has produced a few movies.
Tamil music director Gangai Amaran, younger brother of legendary music composer Ilayaraaja, is the BJP’s candidate for the bypoll. He joined the BJP in 2014 and is currently the president of the State unit’s cultural cell. Gangai Amaran had accused Sasikala of forcing him to sell his 22-acre farm at Payyanurin 1994. He was one of the prosecution witnesses in the disproportionate assets case. The BJP is betting on Amaran’s popularity and caste. The constituency has a significant number of Dalits, and the BJP hopes they would vote for him.
Jayalalithaa’s niece J. Deepa is also contesting the bypoll as an independent. She has been allotted the ”boat” symbol. Ms. Deepa rose to fame after the death of Jayalalithaa. She claims to be the “rightful successor of Jayalalithaa” and had managed to gain support from a section of AIADMK followers. A staunch opposer of Sasikala and her family, Ms. Deepa floated a political outfit called MGR Amma Deepa Peravai on Jayalalithaa’s birthday last month, putting an end to rumours that she will join hands with the Panneerselvam camp.
The Election Commission on Thursday tightened the screws on the by-election to the RK Nagar Assembly constituency, scheduled for April 12, by putting in place more measures to ensure free and fair polls.It appointed as many as five Observers, the highest ever in any constituency in the country and deployed two IAS and two IPS officers on night patrol until the polling is over. Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha said, “The Commission will monitor the arrangements closely and will not leave any stone unturned to ensure free, fair, transparent and inducement-free election.” CCTVs would be deployed in major streets and junctions and checkpoints in the constituency to monitor movement of vehicles and persons.
Election commission is making all efforts to help the people vote without fear.
So far the ruling Sasikala faction of AIADMK has made any move for merger of factions as it is keen to see OPS faction is finished even if DMK wins comfortably in that process. Possibly Sasikala is working towards ending MGR-Jayalalithaa rule in the state. .
Now Tamil Nadu without Jayalalithaa as the only vote puller of the party one has to see if OPS could emerge the winner of the hearts of Tamils, even if unable to win the poll due ot split politics.
Absence of Jayalalithaa phenomenon in Tamil Nadu politics, both DMK and BJP are back with new hopes. While DMK wants to win the RK Nagar to push for a government change in Madras Fort sooner than later, BJP is eager to make a presence in Tami Nadu politics once again.
DMK has got a solid vote bank unlike the AIADMK where there seems to be a three way split. Moreover Congress party is backing the DMK candidate. CM Palanisamy has not been able to make a decision to take step forward, without prisoner Sasikala’s nod, to merge with Panneer Selvam faction to let Jayalalithaa legacy live in the state without further major setbacks. Sasikala seems to be toying with idea of ending the MGR rule in the state. She knows once down, AIADMK cannot revive its fortunes as there are no charismatic and loyal leaders in the party. .
Without the symbol of two leaves, the voters who want to vote for Jayalalithaa party could be confused. New symbols are bound to confuse the common or ‘aam voter’.
Money and other resources play very important role in polls. Sasikala’s faction and the DMK have the money-power to repeat this tradition. The OPS and Deepa camps lose this round.
The by poll results in RK Nagar constituency in Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai would give an idea of the changing course or otherwise of politics in Tamil Nadu in the post-Jayalalithaa era, particularly an assessment of popularity of the ruling AIADMK (Amma). The results would also show the benefits of DMK would gain from the death and division of AIADMK in the state and, if BJP could make any profits from the fluid situation obtaining from the untimely demise of Jayalalithaa.
The current situation indicates that DMK could sail through albeit with a small majority and that would be big success for the opposition party which is eagerly awaiting a government change in Madras Fort for quite some time and so long as Jayalalithaa was in control, it could not make any head way in achieving its goal.
When Jayalalithaa won the general poll with a resounding victory for the AIADMK for the second consecutive term without any truck with any of the parties, notwithstanding the BJP’s attempts to be a partner of the ruling AIADMK to win a few seats in this southern state, she indeed made a history in Tamil Nadu politics and took all politicians by shock.
Now the situation is back to square one! Speculation is indeed thrilling!