Chennai: T.T.V. Dhinakaran’s victory as an independent in RK Nagar bypoll, cornering more than 50% of the votes, has raised more questions than answers, upsetting the dynamic of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu.
The party, which has been volatile over the past year since the death of former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, is set for another realignment.
While the Dhinakaran faction claims that the “real AIADMK cadres" are on its side as reflected in the RK Nagar bypoll results, observers said that the results have proved that the “two leaves" election symbol is not something that is invincible.
“People have opted for Dhinakaran, seeing him as Jayalalithaa’s heir. The results are a slap on the AIADMK’s face," said Thol. Thirumavalavan, leader of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK). His party had supported the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which finished third.
DMK’s poor performance in the RK Nagar bypoll, despite the infighting in the AIADMK, is seen as a big setback for the party which had the support of the Congress, Left parties, VCK, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and other small parties. The DMK’s N. Marudhu Ganesh polled just 24,651 votes.
“The cadre’s morale will be weak and (DMK working president) M.K. Stalin will have to work overtime to refurbish things," said N. Sathiya Moorthy, director of the Observer Research Foundation in Chennai.
The bypoll was seen as an acid test for Stalin, who took charge as the working president of DMK after president M. Karunanidhi took a back seat due to ill health last year.
“One byelection cannot be seen as the reflection of all the 234 constituencies in the state. Yet, it is a very strong indication for us. If this AIADMK government falls and there is an assembly election, DMK has the advantage," said a senior leader from the DMK.
“The bypoll result is an outcome of a tacit understanding between Stalin and Dhinakaran. Realizing he cannot take on AIADMK and ‘two leaves’ directly, Stalin has diverted his party votes to Dhinakaran," said chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and his deputy O. Panneerselvam in a joint statement on Sunday.
Meanwhile, reports that money had been used in the constituency in the run-up to election day to influence the result have put the Election Commission (EC) in a spot. While it had cancelled the RK Nagar bypoll in April over such allegations, it did not do so this time around.
“It is a Himalayan defeat for the EC and not the DMK," Stalin said.
While the EC claims the R.K. Nagar bypoll was the costliest ever in the country with heavy deployment of security and surveillance teams, observers have said that it failed to conduct a “fair and free election".
The RK Nagar verdict is also seen as a strong message for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) whose tally was well below that recorded for NOTA or none-of-the-above option. The BJP candidate secured 1,417 votes while 2,373 people opted for NOTA.
After Palaniswami and Panneerselvam buried the hatchet, they decided to keep jailed politician V.K. Sasikala and her family away from the party. Her nephew Dhinakaran was suspended from the party.
As the BJP made attempts in the last one year to gain a foothold amid political turmoil in the state, the anti-BJP chorus has grown louder. More than the DMK, Dhinakaran was seen as a stronger voice in opposing the BJP and it worked in his favour.
“Dhinakaran opposes the BJP in all the campaigns. He is obviously bold unlike Palaniswami or Panneerselvam, who have become mere pawns in the hands of Modi (Prime Minister Narendra Modi)," said a voter in RK Nagar.