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RK Nagar bypoll: Why the battle for Jayalithaa's legacy in Tamil Nadu is messed up

Shorn off the popular 'two leaves' poll symbol, the rival Sasikala and OPS factions of AIADMK are exposed before the electorate.

 |  Sunny Side Down  |  4-minute read |   29-03-2017
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Shorn off the popular “two leaves” poll symbol, the rival factions of the AIADMK are laid bare and exposed before the electorate in the late J Jayalalithaa’s Dr Radhakrishnan (RK) Nagar Assembly constituency in Chennai that goes to the polls on April 12.

After the Election Commission froze the "two leaves" symbol, the ruling VK Sasikala faction, now rechristened AIADMK Amma, and the rival AIADMK Puratchi Thalaivi Amma steered by ex–CM O Panneerselvam are locked in a bitter wrangle to wrest the Jayalalithaa legacy.

So trying to propagate symbols allotted to them by the EC as influential tools in the do-or-die electoral contest, both factions have hired professionals to make the symbols trending hashtags and topics on social media besides taking a dig at each other.

Among the tersest was this tweet by a distraught observer @rameshsrivats: “Or, to put it differently – Sasikala faction has no head but gets a cap. OPS faction has no power but gets electricity pole”.

Others, relying on memes, did not spare individual politicians or the police. “Can the police drafted for poll work in RK Nagar constituency, wear a hat?” asked one meme.

Much more than personal prestige is at stake for party deputy secretary general TVV Dhinakaran, ex-MP and Sasikala’s nephew, in the race for the ruling faction. Another one is veteran E Madhusudanan, the septuagenarian ex-MLA and AIADMK Presidium chairman in Jayalalithaa’s days who is the OPS faction contestant.

bd_032917085149.jpg AIADMK (Puratchi Thalaivi Amma) by-poll candidate E Madhusudanan at the RK Nagar constituency. 

Irony is Madhusudanan lost from this constituency in 1989 when he contested as the Jayalalithaa faction candidate, after the AIADMK split following the death of MGR, and later won in 1991, serving as minister between 1991 and 1996.

This time around, the ruling AIADMK Amma faction appears to have the upper hand. It polled 122 votes of the 233 in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly to defeat DMK’s no-confidence motion against speaker P Dhanapal on March 23.

This is the same number it did earlier in the vote of confidence in Edappadi K Palaniswami as chief minister, on February 18, demonstrating the loyalty to the MLAs in the Sasikala faction. The DMK’s N Marudhu Ganesh, a lower level party functionary, and lawyer; and BJP’s Gangai Amaran, a well-known music director (both first-time contestants) are also among the 62 in the race for the RK Nagar seat.

The DMK has also complained to the office of the Chief Electoral Officer that functionaries of both AIADMK factions are involved in distributing money and polling officials are not taking a lenient view even if they are caught red–handed and turned over to the authorities.

Dhinakaran, among the earliest to hit the campaign trail has also released an election manifesto and announced "Vision R K Nagar" a mobile app, to resolve the grievances of the people in the constituency.

Guidance cell to help the jobless find employment, a mega job fair, a free training centre to help candidates excel in competitive examinations for bank jobs and a world class gymnasium, all to woo the youth in the labour dominated constituency are among the promises. He has also promised housing for all 57,000 applicants who had sought help from Jayalalithaa.

His faction’s spokesperson Nanjil Sampath says it would be easy for Dhinakaran, who goes around electioneering wearing a cap, his poll symbol, because people would connect it with the cap worn by party founder MG Ramachandran in his 1966 film Anbey Vaa. “People have tremendous faith in Dhinakaran to carry forward the legacy of Amma,” claims Sampath.

The last two poll outcomes suggest that the Sasikala faction faces a challenge. Jayalalithaa had polled 97,218 votes last year to defeat DMK’s Shimla Muthuchozhan (57,673) and retain the seat she had won in a by-election in 2015.

However, it was a steep fall from the 2015 tally — 1,60,432 votes — made possible because the adversary then was the CPI’s C Mahendran who polled 9,710 votes. This was also backed by a massive effort by the ruling party to get Amma back into the Legislative Assembly after her acquittal by the Karnataka government in the disproportionate assets case.

However, independent observers and political detractors reason that the people, as opposed to the ministers and AIADMK MLAs, are with the OPS faction. Deepa Jayakumar, Jayalalithaa’s niece and a political greenhorn, in the race under the banner of her MGR Amma Deepa Peravai as an Independent, may also garner a slice of the anti–Sasikala sentiment to the detriment of the rival OPS faction.

However, if the perceived public support in the state fails to translate into votes for the AIADMK Puratchi Thalaivi Amma faction, RK Nagar may well be its political waterloo and possibly OPS' too.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Also read: Why RK Nagar bypoll is a do-or-die for AIADMK


Amarnath K Menon Amarnath K Menon @amarnathkmenon

The writer is Senior Deputy Editor, India Today and is based in Hyderabad.

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