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Reading the tea leaves from RK Nagar bypoll

By R Rajagopalan
December 26, 2017 14:56 IST
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The RK Nagar bypoll result is a danger signal to the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu, says R Rajagopalan.

Image: TTV Dinakaran greets his voters after winning the RK Nagar constituency bypoll in Chennai on December 24, 2017. Photograph: PTI Photo.

Independent candidate and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam rebel TTV Dinakaran’s victory in the RK Nagar bypoll is bound to deepen the uncertainties plaguing Tamil Nadu politics since the death of former chief minister Jayalalithaa a year ago. 

With his stupendous win -- Dinakaran even surpassed the victory margin posted by Jayalalithaa from RK Nagar in 2016 -- he has managed to kill two birds in one shot.


First, Dinakaran with his newly allotted ‘pressure cooker’ symbol has shown the invincibility of the Two Leaves election symbol to be a fallacy.

And two, he even managed to consign the principal opposition party, DMK, to irrelevance, with its candidate even losing his deposit.

The fight now is clearly between the VK Sasikala-Dinakaran grouping, and the official AIADMK represented by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam.

The Bharatiya Janata Party too lost its deposit, its vote count ranking below NOTA, which underscores the continuing irrelevance of national political parties in a deeply Dravidian state.

Polling in the constituency took place on the day the CBI special court acquitted the DMK’s A Raja and Kanimozhi in the 2G spectrum case, effectively ruling that there was no scam as alleged in the allocation of precious spectrum during the UPA government.

Soon after the results were declared on Sunday a triumphant Dinakaran declared that he would engineer defections from the EPS-OPS group through his ‘sleeper cells’, effectively serving notice on the state government.

The election outcome could not have come at a worse time for the Tamil Nadu government which has been in crisis mode for the last one year.

Since the demise of Jayalalaithaa, the state government has been on auto pilot, with the result that the administration has suffered grievously. No infrastructure projects have been announced since then, nor has there been any foreign direct investment into the state. Mushrooming law and order problems, ministers openly going out on party work, and the unbridled exploitation of natural resources have left senior officials deeply upset but helpless. 

The assembly is due to convene for the budget session in January but it is anybody’s guess how effective it will be, given the long shadow the RK Nagar poll outcome will cast on it. Soon after, in March, the state will go in for civic elections which have been delayed so far on one pretext or the other.

Apart from these political issues, the ongoing relief and rehabilitation in the wake of cyclone Ockhi underlines the need for an administration that is on its toes and alert to the challenges facing it.

Sadly, the EPS-OPS government doesn’t give such an impression.

What it needs to do is work out a rapprochement with the Dinakaran faction, forge unity at all levels, and project a united front against all challenges, political and otherwise.

That is the only way this government can run its full course.

Even if the outcome in one bypoll is not enough to make such a conclusion, the other worrying result from RK Nagar is the irrelevance of the DMK. While the emergence of new political outfits is of course welcome in a democracy, the decimation of the principal opposition is not. 

Does it mean the voters are fed up with the brand of politics practised by the two main Dravidian parties and hence sought out a new force in Dinakaran who, while remaining within the ideological fold, promised them a new beginning?

Sadly, the long-awaited entry of superstars Rajinikanth and Kamalahaasan into politics will only muddy the waters further, rather than providing any viable alternative or a new direction to the way politics is being practised in the state.

Money power dominating elections did not start with RK Nagar, rather it has been practised in the state for more than a decade so much so much so the giving and taking of money for votes is not considered amoral. This is the reality that new entrants like Rajini and Kamal will have to contend with.

Will they be able to change it, and forge a new narrative?

On available evidence, it seems highly unlikely.

R Rajagopalan is a senior journalist and has been a keen observer of Tamil Nadu politics for three decades.

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