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Things may change in the AIADMK, but not in RK Nagar

By A Ganesh Nadar
Last updated on: December 14, 2017 12:33 IST
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In a week from now, December 21, voters in R K Nagar in Chennai will decide who their MLA will be.'s A Ganesh Nadar reports on the first electoral referendum after the AIADMK's rival EPS and OPS factions united.

IMAGE: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E K Palaniswami (flashing the V sign), Deputy Chief Minister O Pannerselvam (extreme right), Finance Minister D Jayakumar (second from right) campaign for AIADMK candidate E Madhusudhanan (centre) at the Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar constitutency in Chennai. Photograph: PTI Photo

The high-decibel and high-impact election in Gujarat may have crowded it out of the front pages and television screens, but the assembly by-election in Chennai's RK Nagar constituency is what is keeping the Tamil Nadu establishment busy.

This election is special in many ways.


For one, it is a fresh edition of a countermanded poll. Originally slated for April 12, the bypoll, being held to fill the late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa's assembly seat, has seen a role reversal of sorts.

The protagonists then were E Madhusudhanan of the rebel All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam faction, T T V Dinakaran for the main party, and Marudhu Ganesh from the Opposition DMK.

In the last few months, a lot of water has flowed under the Cooum.

The two factions of the ruling AIADMK have since come together, been recognised as the main party and allotted its Two Leaves election symbol. Madhusudhanan is now the official candidate.

Dinakaran represents the party rump led by his aunt Sasikala Natarajan, currently serving a prison sentence in Bengaluru in a corruption case in which the Accused No 1 was the deceased chief minister.

The DMK has retained its candidate. Of the 62 candidates in the fray, including the Bharatiya Janata Party ever desperate to make a mark in the southern state, these are the three that matter.

There may have been a sea change in the AIADMK's fortunes, but some things, it seems, don't change in Tamil Nadu politics.

The Election Commission had countermanded the earlier bypoll following blatant misuse of money power and large-scale bribing of voters.

A case was in fact filed against seven ministers including the chief minister for distributing money, but this case has meandered nowhere. And no one seems interested in pursuing it anymore.

More than the official AIADMK candidate or the DMK's, it is Dinakaran's presence in the fray that lends this contest an extra edge.

He may be down and out for the moment, but anyone who writes him off will be misreading his clout over a section of the AIADMK and its legislators.

What is the secret behind his success? Many theories float about, but most agree on one fact. As the one who controls the AIADMK's purse strings after Sasikala was sent to prison, his importance cannot diminish with the outcome in one by-election.

I am going to work for Dinakaran, he is spending money lavishly and so he will win," says G Solomon who has driven all the way to Chennai from Thoothukudi in southern Tamil Nadu.

The New Indian Express newspaper reports that anti-corruption activists have been functioning as force multipliers for the Election Commission in its effort to curtail the use of money power in the constituency.

So far 52 cars have been seized, but that does not seem to have deterred the inflow of party workers from other parts of the state into R K Nagar.

There are unforeseen consequences of such zeal. Like taxi drivers unwilling to ply to the constituency.

"If you are carrying money, my cab will be seized," one cabbie told me, relenting only on seeing my journalistic credentials. "You don't know how many cabs have been seized for no fault of theirs," he explains, asking, "How do we know what the passenger is carrying?"

"Money is even now being distributed," one cabbie alleges, "but outside the constituency."

"When they go around asking for votes, they also ask who the voters trust in their locality. Whoever is named is called to another locality outside and given the money to be distributed," this cabbie claims.

"If the Election Commission thinks it has stopped money distribution," he says, "they are mistaken."

IMAGE: The DMK's large election office in the Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar constitutency. Photograph: A Ganesh Nadar/

The DMK is trying hard to win this by-election. Its election office in the constituency is large, with flags of all its supporting parties fluttering above the entrance.

Everything appears to be well organised. DMK cadres coming in for lunch money have to sign for it. A huge board at one end of the room gives the house-to-house campaign schedule for the next few days.

And there are cars parked at the venue, suggesting that the DMK does not plan to lose the election for lack of resources, or will.

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A Ganesh Nadar / in Chennai
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