Battle for RK Nagar: Dinakaran's 'hat' in ring, OPS group eyes 'pole' position
With the Election Commission freezing the AIADMK’s “two-leaves” symbol, the 12 April by-election to the RK Nagar Assembly constituency has become even more exciting. The rival factions of Sasikala-Dinakaran and O Panneerselvam have entered the fray with new symbols and party names.
The by-election is to fill the vacancy caused by the death of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in December last year.
Thursday was the last date for filing nominations. In the fray are VK Sasikala faction’s deputy general secretary TTV Dinakaran, Panneerselvam faction’s presidium chairman E Madhusudhanan, little known DMK candidate Marudu Ganesh and music director Gangai Amaran of the BJP.
Besides, the CPM has also put up a candidate, stating that communalism is a greater threat than corruption, a view that helped Jayalalitha return to power in 2001 despite her conviction in two corruption cases.
As Dinakaran, nephew of the jailed Sasikala, supposedly plans to take over as Chief Minister from the figurehead Edappadi Palaniswami, he is going all out to win this by-election.
He has thrown his hat in the ring, literally and figuratively. His faction has opted for the Hat symbol and the name AIADMK Amma party. The hat has been chosen because the party’s founder MG Ramachandran had donned a hat in many films and off screen too, he was identified with his fur cap.
And the Amma suffix is because Jaya is venerated as mother by both the sides, despite the Supreme Court finding her guilty of corruption. Sasikala has been convicted in the same case
The Pannerselvam faction’s candidate Madhusudhanan filed his nomination on behalf of the newly named AIADMK Puratchi Thalaivi Amma party and will be contesting under the symbol 'electric pole', closely resembling two-leaves.
Tussle over the AIADMK symbol
Both sides made representations to the Election Commission all through Wednesday. The documents submitted ran into nearly 20,000 pages. The EC gave a late night order saying that the two leaves symbol is being frozen temporarily and that the two sides could submit additional documents by 17 April.
The EC also said that it would resume hearing the matter later in April for a final decision. It said that in the interim, neither side should use the AIAMDK name or its symbol.
The Sasikala faction cited the support of 122 MLAs and 37 Lok Sabha MPs, besides nearly 1900 out of 2100 general council members.
The OPS camp questioned the appointment of Sasikala as an interim general secretary after the passing of Jayalalithaa, saying that there was no such post. Besides, she was expelled from the party by Jaya in December 2011 and was readmitted only in October 2013. As such, she was not a primary member for five continuous years, a requisite for becoming general secretary.
As her appointment as general secretary was legally suspect, her action in appointing Dinakaran as her deputy is equally open to challenge, they contended.
This is the second time the history of the AIADMK that the symbol is being frozen. The first time was when the party split into two factions after MGR’s passing in December 1987. One faction was headed by his wife Janaki and the other by Jayalalithaa. The symbol was restored to them after the two sides came together and reunited the party.
Dinakaran, who filed his papers with a brand new hat on his head, told reporters that it was only a temporary setback. He asserted he would win hands down and recapture the party with the symbol. He promised to fulfill the late Jayalalithaa's promise of making RK Nagar the Number 1 constituency in the country.
The working class dominated constituency has been an AIADMK bastion – the party has won it continuously since 2001. Jayalalithaa won twice from the seat – in a by-election held in 2015 and again in the 2016 Assembly elections. But despite this, it lacks basic infrastructure like drinking water and roads.
In 2016, Jayalalithaa got 97,218 votes, way ahead of her DMK rival who got 57,673 votes. But a vertical split in AIADMK votes, could bring other parties in the reckoning.
The BJP has fielded music director Gangai Amaran, who joined the party in 2014. He also happens to be the younger of brother of the legendary Ilayaraja.
The party is hoping that the Modi magic will work in Tamil Nadu, as it has worked in Uttar Pradesh and Manipur, now that there is a leadership vacuum post-Jaya.
Gangai Amaran has been specifically chosen because he was a victim of the Jaya-Sasikala duo’s property-buying spree from 1991 to 1996. He was forced to sell his posh Siruvathur bungalow on the Old Mahabalipuram Road to Sasikala.
He was also a key witness for the prosecution in the disproportionate assets against THE duo in a special court in Bengaluru. Their conviction has been upheld by the Supreme Court and Sasikala is serving a four-year jail term in Bengaluru.
In wake of the Apex Court’s finding that both were equally guilty of corruption, DMK working president MK Stalin initially attacked the Jayalalithaa's legacy itself. However as the faction feud in the AIADMK intensified, he tacitly backed the O Panneerselvam faction.
As an extension of that strategy, he has put up an advocate Marudu Ganesh, a weak candidate, whose only plus point is being a local.
As the battle for the party is far from over, the Panneerselvam faction does not want to be seen to be cosying up to arch rival DMK.
Given the popular mood against Sasikala and the Palaniswami regime, the DMK should be sitting pretty. But it fears that the Dinakaran faction will use money and muscle power to win, as the government is in its hands.
On Tuesday, Gangai Amaran's son Venkat Prabhu tweeted that his father met Rajinikanth and that the superstar wished him success in the upcoming bypoll. As rumours spread about Rajinikanth's support for the BJP in the bypoll, the actor was forced to issue a clarification that he isn't supporting anyone in the elections. This is what he tweeted on Thursday.
My support is for no one in the coming elections.— Rajinikanth (@superstarrajini) March 23, 2017
The joke doing the rounds is that given Rajinikanth's tweet, even None of the Above (NOTA) may get sizable numbers. In any case, the outcome is wide open.
Edited by Aditya Menon