RK Nagar by-poll: How TTV Dhinakaran’s victory humiliates both AIADMK and DMK
His winning margin over AIADMK surpasses Jayalalithaa's victory margin in 2016 Assembly elections.
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In the Assembly elections in May 2016, Jayalalithaa's winning margin was 39,545 votes. One and a half years later, TTV Dhinakaran who aspires to inherit her political legacy, did better. His winning margin over the AIADMK candidate was 40,707 votes. The humiliation of the AIADMK is complete. Neither the two leaves symbol nor the glamour of being the party in power helped its cause at the hustings.
The fate of the principal opposition party DMK was worse. Its candidate lost his deposit, netting just 24,651 votes, a huge drop from the 57,000 votes the party polled in 2016. It raised doubts whether any match-fixing was involved between the DMK and Dhinakaran, with an eye to create turmoil within the ruling party. After all, it is not easy to explain why roughly 33,000-odd committed DMK cadre did not punch for the rising sun.
Far away from any bid to win the contest, the BJP was involved in its own race. In the end, it polled 1,417 votes, less even than NOTA that got 2,373 votes. The BJP has been crying hoarse about how money power had vitiated the election, which was not an incorrect allegation. But to not even get as many votes as NOTA raises questions about the party's appeal beyond the television studios. It is also a reflection on the resentment against the BJP for having made the AIADMK dance to its tunes, by organising a series of income tax raids.
If Tamil Nadu politics was always tough to comprehend, the RK Nagar verdict has only reaffirmed it. Rewind to early this year and Sasikala was the most reviled figure in Tamil Nadu, with just about everyone accusing her of having a hand in Jayalalithaa's death. On Sunday, the RK Nagar electorate plumped for the same Sasikala's nephew, proving the public is fickle-minded and a year is a long time in politics.
What led to such a stunning victory for an Independent candidate, who had a new poll symbol and no party apparatus to back him? Dhinakaran countered the bigger players by making the election about himself. He played the underdog to the hilt, even when the Chennai police did not even allow him to campaign on the first two days. He pretended to be David to the AIADMK Goliath, which also derived its strength from the support it received from New Delhi and its investigation agencies. He played on the sympathy factor, deriving support from the AIADMK cadre, having gone to jail in the bribery case.
But the reality on the ground was different. Dhinakaran allegedly matched the money power of the AIADMK, note for note. The election campaign that took place in RK Nagar in the run-up to December 21 was a vulgar display of wealth, with voters being openly bribed by the politicians of all hues and their agents. A price was put to every vote, up from Rs 4,000 in April to Rs 6,000 now.
What it says about our electoral system is that voters are no longer interested in hollow promises the candidates make. They have realised there is no light at the end of that tunnel and prefer immediate gratification. It is unethical but a more practical approach to elections.
But was the money factor alone responsible for ensuring Dhinakaran one in every two votes that were cast in RK Nagar? Yes and no. Two factors have come to light. One, the women voters, impressed by the charisma Dhinakaran exuded in comparison with a dull and dour Madhusudanan of the AIADMK and an unimpressive Ganesh of the DMK, plumped for him. Two, Muslims, too, seem to have voted for Dhinakaran as they see him as the one who has the capacity to take on the BJP.
The election is set to change the political dynamics of Tamil Nadu. Already, Dhinakaran's trusted aide, Vetrivel has declared that the TTV faction is the real AIADMK and that the ruling party should join them. It is rubbing salt in the wounds of the Panneerselvam-Palaniswami faction as they assumed that winning the two leaves symbol was like winning half the electoral battle.
If 2017 was politically chaotic in Tamil Nadu, 2018 promises to be no different. The Palaniswami-led government is shaky and the next few days are likely to see many in the ruling camp expressing new-found love for Dhinakaran. Fasten your veshtis for a bumpy drive ahead.