Self-anointed “successor to Amma”, T.T.V. Dinakaran may have won the battle for R.K Nagar, but that doesn’t mean the war to control AIADMK in Tamil Nadu is over. Far from it. It has just opened up another front in the tussle for AIADMK leadership, with Dinakaran strategically positioned to make further inroads into the EPS-OPS camp, the current rulers in Chennai, Chief Minister E. Palaniswamy and his deputy O. Panneerselvam. An uncertain future stares at the duo, whose very claim to the party leadership is facing a renewed challenge from the “Mannargudi Mafia”, Dinakaran and his jailbird aunt, VK. Sasikala. While the Election Commission has on paper accepted the present ruling dispensation as the real AIADMK, Sasikala and Dinakaran continue to be general secretary and deputy secretary respectively with support from the rank and file of the party.

That the result of the bypoll has come on the 30th death anniversary of AIADMK founder, the original Makkal Thilagam Puratchi Thalaivar, M.G. Ramachandran, may be just coincidental. But what matters is that Dinakaran, by his victory, has thrown the party, which grew from strength to strength under the late J. Jayalalithaa since 1987, into utter confusion. It is important that the R.K. Nagar byelection, necessitated by the untimely death of the late Chief Minister, was the first electoral test the party faced without her. And minus her charismatic presence, and in the absence of any tall leader to attract crowds, the party lost by a huge margin.

The runaway victory of Dinakaran, who contested as an independent, is quite puzzling in the sense that he has cut into the vote share of the two Dravidian parties. Setting aside the allegations of large scale buying of votes, an accepted practice in Tamil Nadu for decades, what is intriguing is the humiliation of DMK, whose candidate lost even his deposit. This has given doubts as to whether the defeat was part of a larger electoral strategy planned by DMK leader M.K. Stalin to decimate the official AIADMK. If so, what is the guarantee that such a move may not boomerang, making the mother of all Dravidian parties vulnerable in the future.

Since the possibility of Dinakran taking charge of AIADMK cannot be ruled out at this stage, the road to 2019 may not be that smooth for DMK. Remember, by that time Sasikala too will be out of prison and is capable of capitalising on the image of someone who has sacrificed herself to uphold the dignity of Amma. Had Jayalalithaa been alive, she too would have accompanied Sasikala to prison. And if Stalin is hoping for a snap Assembly poll, which some say even Dinakaran is keen on, most of the MLAs from both the parties may not be willing to become “sacrificial goats”. 

The RK Nagar result will at least lead to some rethinking, even if one assumes that the DMK had purposely voted for Dinakaran. Then the intent of DMK’s allies, including the Left, arises. Stalin has said that it is not a victory for Dinakaran, but a defeat for the Election Commission, which, according to him, had failed to check purchase of votes. Many may doubt Stalin’s claim that this time his party has not distributed cash or doled out freebies. But there seems to be some truth in Stalin’s words. Those who closely follow the electoral politics of Tamil Nadu know that the same Dravidian parties had started the practice of giving cash and freebies during elections. What started off as gifts or home appliances has now assumed terrifying proportions. Like opium, the voters are addicted to it and refuse to budge if not given cash. Many areas in R.K. Nagar reportedly stayed off voting since cash had not reached there. The DMK may have fallen victim to its own strategy. If this is true, it can lead to some introspection among political parties, which will be good for them and the voters.

Post victory, a jubilant Dinakaran boasted that he will bring down the present government in three months. It may not be that easy for him to become Chief Minister of the state. He will have to face several legal hurdles, apart from political ones, but more on a personal level. All the 18 MLAs who now support Dinkaran have been disqualified. Even if a reluctant Governor calls another trust-vote, the question remains how Dinakaran will muster support. In victory, he may find more MLAs from the opposing camp. He has all the money power to keep them. But given the fact that he is just out of jail, many other money and business related cases are pending against him. A lot will depend on how the current dispensation in Delhi assesses the situation. The BJP candidate may have failed even to get past NOTA in the byelection, but the party is not going to give up its ambitions in this part of the South. But it will take some time for the party to recover from the shock realisation of its base in the state.

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