Move aside EPS-OPS, Dinakaran’s big win in RK Nagar will be a game changer
The landslide victory in the RK Nagar by-election to the Tamil Nadu Assembly by rebel AIADMK candidate TTV Dinakaran is set to become a game changer. The first casualty will be the AIADMK regime, which he has said would go “in three months”.
Dinakaran, who contested as an Independent and trounced the reunited AIADMK with official machinery and the two leaves symbol in its hands, that too from a constituency which sent late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa to the Assembly twice in 2015 and 2016, has shown that an overwhelming majority of the party men see him as one who can carry forward her legacy. And that Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy and Deputy O Panneerselvam are pretenders to the throne.
Palanisamy and Panneerselvam has called it a fraudulent victory and has threatened to crack the whip against anyone planning to join Dinakaran camp. But that threat won’t work.
But, the bigger question is whether Dinakaran will be able to replicate this at a general election.
The cash for vote was introduced in Tamil Nadu by DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi’s Madurai-based eldest son MK Azhagiri in a by-election in Thirumangalam, a suburb of Madurai in 2009. He targeted undecided voters for bribes, leaving out the committed. It worked, but did not in the 2011 Assembly elections and the DMK lost to AIADMK’s Jayalalithaa.
RK Nagar has always been an AIADMK fortress and it returned late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to the state Assembly twice. At these by-polls, Dinakaran has come to close to matching Jayalalithaa’s performance. He bagged 89,013 votes – that is 52%. His nearest rival and AIADMK Presidium Chairman E Madhusudhanan got 48,306 votes – 25%, losing by a margin of over 40,000.
The DMK, for the first time in recent years, has lost the security deposit. Its low-profile candidate Marudhu Ganesh got just a little over 24,000 votes, less than 6% of the total votes polled and a figure that is needed to save the deposit.
The BJP candidate Karu Nagarajan got less than NOTA. He said when DMK itself has lost its deposit, his party losing it is no big deal and it would do better in the future if voters are not bribed.
The RK Nagar verdict will make film stars Rajinikanth, who is meeting his fans this year-end, rethink about entering politics at this juncture. Kamal Hassan, who also similar plans, may put them on hold.
All the unsuccessful candidates, from the AIADMK down to the DMK working president Stalin have blamed it on the brazen distribution of money, calling it a defeat for the Election Commission. State BJP president Tamilisai Soundararajan also called it a “bought victory”.
Pattali Makkal Katchi leader Anbumani Ramadoss asked why have an election at all if is going to be decided by money.
“Why not auction the seat like they do in IPL matches?” he asked and pointed out that the time has come for the need of more thorough election reforms.
True, both the AIADMK factions splurged money, at the rate of Rs 6,000 a vote, reportedly. But to attribute Dinakran’s victory solely to money power will be an over-simplification.
What Dinakaran's victory actually means
Dinakaran's victory is the result of votes cast in anger.
As Dinakaran rightly said – “The people have spoken against the present regime and for the continuance of Amma’s rule.”
He has set a deadline of three months. He needs this time. Right now he has no party, no symbol, no MLA. As a sole MLA, he cannot bring down this government which has already disqualified 18 of his supporting legislators.
And the Madras High Court has said status quo should be maintained until it takes a call on the validity of their disqualification by Speaker S Dhanapal. In other words, no floor test can be done till then.
Dinakaran’s next move will depend on the high court's verdict which is expected soon. Surely his RK Nagar victory will have a bearing on the verdict.
The present Edappadi government owes its position to jailed VK Sasikala who installed it as a proxy after she went to jail after being convicted in the assets case. When Dinakaran, who was named deputy general secretary, threw his hat in the ring in the RK Nagar polls last April, the very same ministers, barring O Panneerselvam who was leading his own outfit, campaigned for him.
The Election Commission countermanded that election on the charge of rampant use of money to lure voters.
Subsequently, the two groups merged under pressure from Prime Minister Narendra Modi who wanted the reunited AIADMK to regain the symbol and align with the BJP in the next Assembly or Lok Sabha elections so that he can tap into the MGR and Jayalalithaa vote-base. Post-merger, the party and symbol went to the EPS-OPS groups.
The EC announced the poll date a day after deciding the symbol case.
Though cash for vote was as rampant as before this time also, it could not put off the election again as it was under a Madras High Court directive to hold it before the year-end.
The voters of RK Nagar, as well as people at large, saw Dinakaran as a man standing up to persecution by the Centre. And the release of the video of Jaya in hospital on the eve of the polling, to show that the allegations that Sasikala was responsible for her death were malicious, turned the tide in favour of Dinakaran.
Now that he has won hands down, his plan will be to capture the party and through it – power. This government has just 114 MLAs in a House of 234, four short of majority. It will fall even if a handful of ruling party MLAs cross over to Dinakaran’s side.
But that won’t be enough for Dinakaran to form an alternative government
To capture power, he will have to engineer en masse cross-over of ruling party MLAs to his side so that they can escape the anti-defection law. The MLAs will gladly go with Dinakaran if he can form an alternative government and win elections for them, whenever they happen. As he has shown he can in RK Nagar.
The road ahead will be tough for the DMK as Stalin has not been able to make a dent despite the absence of Jayalalithaa. The RK Nagar poll results has shown that the AIADMK vote is intact. The euphoria created by the acquittal of Stalin’s step-sister Kanimozhi and former Telecom Minister A Raja in the 2G Scam has had no impact in RK Nagar. He will only have to count on the fact that the note for a vote cannot be replicated in a general election.
Modi’s calculations have gone awry. He expected that this government would fall. The newly appointed Governor Banwarilal Purohit even got pro-active – ready to take over anytime. But that may not happen immediately.
For some time to come, Dinakaran will be the man to watch.