Given the twin embarrassments of a TTV win and party nominee Karu Nagarajan losing his deposit, polling fewer votes than NOTA, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP boss Amit Shah would be pushed to rethink their strategy.
Tamil Nadu would thus become a part of the BJP’s grander strategy for 2019 rather than a stand-alone affair, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
Coming as it does on party founder MGR’s 30th death anniversary, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s ‘rebel’ candidate T T V Dinakaran’s clean sweep in the by-poll for late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s RK Nagar assembly seat may have conferred ‘greater legitimacy’ on her jailed aide V K Sasikala’s continual claims to Amma’s politico-electoral heritage.
For better or for worse, the bypoll results have reiterated earlier assumptions of independent observers on Tamil Nadu’s electoral politics on other counts.
One, MGR-Jaya’s ‘Two Leaves’ symbol by itself does not ensure cadre loyalty, leave alone electoral victory.
Two, court cases and verdicts, positive for common rival DMK in the 2G spectrum case, or negative in the case of Jayalalithaa ahead of the 2001 assembly polls, did not impact the Tamil Nadu voter, as shown by the electoral outcome.
But there is a greater and immediate question arising out of Dinakaran’s victory. The Sasikala camp would now be putting its head together more than ever, to decide if they want to float a political party of their own and try and prove their say and way in the long-pending state-wide local bodies polls, whenever held, before deciding to stake claim to the AIADMK, or start the ‘defection game’ at all levels, including MLAs, straightaway.
With the RK Nagar victory, the camp can be expected, even if only through whisper campaigns, to claim that they were as much the real brains behind Jayalalithaa’s continual winning poll strategies as they were often charged with causing her downfall through their powerplay within the party and government whenever she was chief minister, and alleged greed and avarice.
Starting now, the Sasikala camp would state louder than already and aimed at reaching distant Delhi that they are the ‘real AIADMK’, ‘Two Leaves’ symbol or not, and the party’s loyal cadres and voters were all with them -- for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in particular to hear, and act upon.
Given the twin embarrassments of a TTV win and party nominee Karu Nagarajan losing his deposit, polling fewer votes than NOTA, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP boss Amit Shah would be pushed to rethink their Tamil Nadu strategy, wondering if even the DMK might be a right choice for a local ally, as some analysts had said after the CBI special court judge O P Saini acquitted party leaders A Raja and Kanimozhi in the 2G case.
They cannot be seen to be wooing the Sasi faction all over again, as it would mean not only a loss of face for the BJP more than ever, especially in the aftermath of the party’s ‘limited success’ in Gujarat, when compared to the 2019 Lok Sabha poll outcome in the state.
Tamil Nadu would thus become a part of the BJP’s grander strategy for 2019 rather than a stand-alone affair, as it was deemed to be. Better or worse still for Sasikala and Co, the ‘Gujarat reversal’, if it could be called so, could post facto justify their perceived apprehensions about the BJP’s ‘early hurry’ in and on Tamil Nadu.
There are enough indications on the ground that the BJP duo has already changed tack for Tamil Nadu between Jaya’s death and the post-reunification of the EPS and OPS camps -- and now.
Through much of these past months, including Dinakaran’s arrest and Tihar incarceration for allegedly trying to bribe a senior Election Commission official for the symbol, and outside of the SC verdict that confirmed Sasikala’s four-year jail-term, the clan had held its ground, viz, dealing/negotiating with the BJP, or the ‘reunited’ ruling faction of the AIADMK, purportedly at the behest of the BJP.
Now, after the RK Nagar win, the camp can lay down tougher conditions for any such re-merger or seat-sharing talks, whoever and whenever it be, at least until the local bodies polls. They are also under time pressure, as they cannot predict if their ‘stand-alone’ luck would carry through to the local bodies’ polls.
But the immediate problem for the victors and losers is over the cases in Madras high court over the speaker disqualifying the 18 TTV faction MLAs, and initiating breach of privilege action against 21 DMK legislators.
The implication is that with Speaker P Dhanapal in full flow, no official AIADMK legislator would be tempted to cross over, nor would the Sasikala-Dinakaran duo want to try their luck unless they can ensure a near-wholesale ‘transfer’, with no readily predictable consequence.
Either TTV, now a loner in the assembly, can hope to become chief minister himself, or cause enough confusion that could well force Governor Banwarilal Purohit to recommend dissolution of the house or for chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami to recommend such a course, if only to deny other possibilities. Either way, the game is on.
In the interim, however, it reminds to be seen how the Centre and its agencies, as different from the ruling BJP, act and/or react to events and developments initiated by them over the past months, which in a way could end up facilitating some such process/project.
If nothing else, the verdict in RK Nagar, which saw a free flow of money (and which the local media also talked about freely), has put to question the EC claims of wanting to conduct a free and fair bypoll, where the earlier one in April was cancelled (and not just countermanded) precisely for the same reason.
The Dinakaran camp can be expected to interpret the verdict to imply that the RK Nagar voters, and by extension the state’s, did not approve of the way the Centre harassed its leaders.
At another level, the DMK more than the inconsequential BJP is faced with an existential problem of a kind. In the political vacuum created by Jaya’s exit and his father and DMK chief M Karunanidhi’s total retirement from active life and politics after being taking seriously ill, DMK’s working president M K Stalin was hoping to prove his electoral mettle -- but that was not to be.
The DMK cadres had begun anticipating a third and possibly a distant place, over the last 10 months, when the TTV juggernaut began moving with great precision and practised ease, despite the relative delays caused by the inevitable procedural delays in the allocation of the ‘pressure cooker’ symbol for him, and the subsequent hurdles placed on their style of campaign by an equally competent ruling combine (which was otherwise divided almost to the last man).
But the DMK had not dreamt of the possibility of low-profile party candidate, Marudhu Ganesh, losing his security deposit. It may be a consolation for the party’s TV talk-show spokesmen to refer to the Pennagaram assembly bypoll when Jaya was around when the AIADMK lost its deposit and yet romped home later to a general election victory and to power in the state.
Thankfully for Stalin, there is no elder brother M K Azhagiri around any more in party affairs, to taunt and challenge him. But he will come under pressure, as Karunanidhi himself was after the 2001 assembly poll defeat.
Both Stalin and DMK will have a lot of soul-searching to do. Even while contesting against incumbent CM Jayalalithaa-led ruling AIADMK, the DMK-Congress combine, without Karunanidhi around to lead them, had done creditably well in the assembly polls of 2016.
In 2016, Jaya won the RK Nagar by a 39,545-vote margin in what really was only a two-party contest with the DMK, but hers was still not the highest margin in the state. That credit went to Karunanidhi, who retained his native Tiruvarur seat by 67,000 votes.
A surprising element in the DMK’s defeat overall, was that the combine’s losing vote margin was less than 1.5 per cent for the state as a whole. Looking back, the results clearly showed that Jaya was the issue at the time, and there were as many voters across the state who wanted to vote against her leadership as there were to vote for her -- on both sides, going beyond the ‘committed party voters and traditional sympathisers’.
Now, after Jaya’s exit, if the RK Nagar bypoll results were to be understood in a very limited context, there is no electoral issue worth the name before the state’s voter. It is not only Karunanidhi who has ceased to be an electoral issue after Jaya’s exit, the same applies to contemporary Stalin as well.
A sobering thought for the DMK is that the 10 per cent more voting RK Nagar saw in the bypoll over the 2016 election figures may have been for Dinakaran, and not for Marudhu Ganesh or the official AIADMK candidate E Madhusudanan.
In seeking out new issues and faces, a suave and ‘approachable’ TTV (unlike aunt Sasikala) seems to have captured even the non-committed voter’s imagination (at least in RK Nagar for now), not to mention a substantial section of the traditional AIADMK cadres than old and tested faces like that of Stalin, and confused leaders like EPS and O Panneerselvam. A section of the minority votes, usually with the DMK, is also believed to have crossed over to Dinakaran, in the aftermath of Prime Minister Modi calling on an ailing Karunanidhi in November.
It may not be the end of the road for any of the existing electoral and political stakeholders in the state, but RK Nagar may well lead to the beginning of a new road for the state’s voters.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.