National politics will have a bearing on the RK Nagar byelections, and even in the state elections whenever they are called, says R Rajagopal.
It’s only an assembly by-election, but its outcome will have a profound effect on Tamil Nadu politics.
That’s because R K Nagar is no ordinary constituency. It was won by former chief minister Jayalalithaa in the May 2016 assembly elections. Following her death one year ago, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam faction fielded TTV Dinakaran for the by-election in February, before it was countermanded by the Election Commission following gross misuse of money power. Ranged against Dinakaran then was the O Panneerselvam faction’s Madhusudhanan, and the DMK's original candidate, Marudu Ganesh.
After a prolonged delay, and following a prompting by the Madras high court, the bypolls will finally be held on December 21, with results to be declared three days later.
But so much water has flowed down the Cooum in the meantime that now Dinakaran is the outcast who will take on the official, reunited AIADMK which has fielded Madhusudhanan as its candidate under its original election symbol, Two Leaves, which was won by it following a protracted fight in the Election Commission.
That the ruling party in TN is split down the middle is no secret. While V K Sasikala-Dinakaran’s rebel faction holds the purse-strings, and the loyalty of some legislators, even the unity of the reunited factions – under Chief Minister E K Palaniswami and his predecessor OPS --- has not really been cemented, with workers from the two sides continuing to regard each other with distrust.
Given this inherent weakness, the DMK, which otherwise would not have stood much of a chance, can be expected to pull out a surprise on December 24.
And if the unthinkable does happen, the R K Nagar bypoll will signal the beginning of the end of the AIADMK.
At the very least, it is certain to rewrite the internal dynamics in the ruling party.
While the bypoll may be a game-changer, the real political game is the one that has been played by the Centre and the Bharatiya Janata Party. If the AIADMK has managed to survive as one unit in the year since Jayalalithaa’s demise, it is thanks to the blessings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose intercession both OPS and EPS have sought on various occasions to keep out Sasikala and Dinakaran from power.
Modi is no stranger to Tamil Nadu politics, having followed Jayalalithaa’s administration from 2012. This was followed by the briefings he received from both OPS and EPS about the sway of money power in the state, which helped the Centre unleash a series of tax raids which left the political establishment stunned.
That the Centre is following a multi-pronged policy in Tamil Nadu was evident when Prime Minister Modi, in a surprise move, called on ailing former chief minister M Karunanidhi at his home in Chennai. While it spread consternation in the ruling AIADMK, the one to worry ought to be the Congress party. For the BJP, even while seeking to establish a foothold in the key southern state, is determined to not let the Congress re-emerge in a state where it was ousted from power 50 years ago.
What all this underscores is that willy-nilly national politics will have a bearing on the RK Nagar byelections, and even in the state elections whenever they are called.
Even as the two main reunited factions of the AIADMK jostle for power and position, casting a shadow on the stability of the administration, one major development is the EPS faction agreeing to putting up Madhusudhanan, who was OPS’s candidate in the previous round, from RK Nagar. This concession was made knowing that the threat from Dinakaran can only be faced by an AIADMK fighting as one unit. If Madhusudhanan was not put up, the OPS faction would have pulled its punches, ultimately benefiting Dinakaran.
EPS clearly knows that the threat to his government from the latter is far greater than the one from OPS’s faction. In fact, it won’t be far of the mark to say that Dinakaran poses a greater threat to the main AIADMK than even the DMK’s M K Stalin.
Assuming the AIADMK coasts to a win in R K Nagar, it will by no means mark an end to its woes, or the state’s troubles. For long ruled by a strong, elected chief minister, the state is headed for a bout of instability, with no charismatic leader available to paper over the cracks. Or to face up to the many challenges confronting the state.
Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters.
R Rajagopalan, a senior journalist based in New Delhi, has reported on Tamil Nadu since 1980.