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The many claimants for Jaya's RK Nagar seat

April 05, 2017 11:03 IST

62 candidates vye for Amma's mantle in the Radhakrishnan Nagar assembly by-poll in Tamil Nadu, but who will fortune favour?
Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar finds out.

IMAGE: Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Working President M K Stalin campaigns for his party candidate Marudhu Ganesh in RK Nagar, Chennai. Photograph: PTI Photo

Chennai is on the boil, with the summer having set in early.

In the Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar assembly constituency, which will see a by-poll on April 12 caused by its MLA J Jayalalithaa's death, tempers are running even higher thanks to the aggressive election campaign mounted by the political parties in the fray.

By-elections in Tamil Nadu are usually easily won by the ruling party. That trend may go awry this time.

This is the first time the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam will contest an election with neither its founder M G Ramachandran nor Jayalalithaa -- its presiding diety since MGR's death -- leading it.

The AIADMK is now split into two, and complicating matters in RK Nagar is a new political entity that claims to be the true inheritor of the party's legacy.

IMAGE: Deepa, Jayalalithaa's niece, is contesting the RK Nagar by-election, claiming she is her aunt's real political heir. Photograph: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

While the party's two factions -- AIADMK Amma, led by Jayalalithaa's former aide V K Sasikala, and the AIADMK Puratchi Thalaivi Amma led by former chief minister O Panneerselvam -- have been denied its election symbol Two Leaves and are contesting on a hat and electric pole as symbols respectively, the late chief minister's niece Deepa is contesting the bypoll on the boat symbol.

In this cauldron of confusion there is the Opposition DMK and 58 other parties in the fray, including the Bharatiya Janata Party which has put up movie composer Gangai Amaran, the legendary Ilayaraja's younger brother.

The BJP office is surprisingly crowded. In one corner, state BJP secretary Karu Nagarajan is busy noting down names in a book, a roster of what party leaders are doing in the constituency this election.

Even a summons for lunch does not distract Nagarajan from this task. "Till the election is over, stop talking about food, we will eat when we have time," he snaps when reminded about the meal awaiting him.

Gangai Amaran has directed 14 films and composed music for another 50. He is a trim man with an affable smile, and soon there is a rush for photographs with him.

His secretary Arthick stops a bus passing by. Gangai Amaran hops into the crowded vehicle, ensuing another rush for photographs with him.

The composer seems to be the only candidate who campaigns the whole day. T T V Dinakaran of Sasikala's AIADMK faction arrives in the constituency between 3 and 4 pm while Deepa arrives only after sunset.

In a state where politics and movies are closely intertwined, Gangai Amaran's decision to contest the election is not surprising. The music director joined the BJP in 2014 and currently heads the party's cultural cell.

Wherever he goes, there are crowds and demands for selfies, but will all that translate into votes?

The BJP's M N Raja polled a mere 2,918 votes in last year's assembly election.

Jayalalithaa won the seat easily, polling 97,218 votes against the DMK's Shimla Muthuchozhan (57,673 votes).

IMAGE: The AIADMK (Sasikala)'s election office in RK Nagar. Photograph: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

The AIADMK's Sasikala faction has an office on the main road, a huge hall full of party cadres at all hours.

The candidate, Sasikala's nephew, party Deputy General Secretary T T V Dinakaran, is said to look after the cadres well. A board informs you about the candidate's daily schedule.

'Sasikala grabbed my land'

BJP candidate Gangai Amaran spoke briefly to Rediff.com

When did you get interested in politics?

I was always interested in politics.

You could have contested the assembly elections last year, yet you have chosen a by-election where the competition is much more severe.

I did not choose to contest then or now. The party decides that. I was asked to contest, and here I am.

Is it true that V K Sasikala grabbed your property when the AIADMK was in power between 1991 and 1996?

Yes, it is true.

She grabbed my land and I have taken her to court.

The case is now in the Supreme Court and I am waiting for judgment day.

Every time the government changes, I am not going to go running to them to tell them that I want my property back.

Whoever is ruling the state has got nothing to do with the case.

The Supreme Court will decide. And as the matter is sub judice, I don't wish to talk about it to anyone.

Observers say the Dravidian parties will spend money like water this election. How will you manage?

Will you vote for a group of bandits if they paid you? No, right?

Similarly, the public will also not vote for them.

This time round you will not be able to bribe voters. You just wait and watch.

In Tamil Nadu, it is well known, it is difficult to win an election without distributing money to voters.

'When a daily wage earner does not go to work on voting day, the least you can do is pay him that day's salary' is how this dubious practice is justified.

"The going rate is Rs 10,000 a vote," claims a local autorickshaw driver.

Deepa's office is surprisingly crowded, all gathered around a man with a mike inside a small car.

"The party that MGR founded and Jayalalithaa protected is now in the hands of a mafia. The only one capable of retrieving the party and saving it is the one who has Amma's blood in her."

"She is Amma's true political heir."

"Only Deepa can find out how our beloved Amma died."

As the man drones on, party workers mill about aimlessly. You ask about the candidate. "Only after sunset will we know where she is canvassing and when." Ahem.

The AIADMK (OPS) does not have an office in the constituency and operates out of a senior leader's home in neighbouring Royapuram.

Its candidate E Madhusudhanan is no stranger to the constituency, having contested the seat four times, and represented it once, between 1991 and 1996.

The DMK has the biggest office among all contestants, with everyone going about their work in a quiet, efficient manner.

The party knows its loyal voter base will not desert the DMK irrespective of how much money is given to them, while the Amma vote will be split three ways. This alone, DMK cadres believe, assures them victory.

The DMK has fielded Marudhu Ganesh, and the belief is that the party will easily win the constituency.

If Dinakaran wins the election, he will likely replace E Palaniswami as the chief minister.

If he loses the election, then the AIADMK (Sasikala) could see MLAs split the party.

Will they rally to the OPS faction, which some observers believe is being backed by the BJP at the Centre?

Or will sufficient numbers buck the anti-defection law and join the DMK, giving M K Stalin a chance to rule the state?

We will know soon enough.

A Ganesh Nadar / Rediff.com
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