Soon after it was clear that TTV Dhinakaran (also spelt as Dinakaran) would romp home in RK Nagar, Thanga Tamil Selvan, one of the 18 suspended MLAs in Tamil Nadu owing allegiance to the Dhinakaran camp, was asked about the possibility of a rebellion within the ruling AIADMK.
“If you add the 18 legislators, we have 60 sleeper cells,” he announced with a dramatic flourish. Sleeper cell is a reference to an AIADMK lawmaker who is in fact a Dhinakaran loyalist. A Trojan horse of sorts. “And we will activate them soon,” he added, with a laugh, raising visions of a political attack in E Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam’s backyard.
If there is one thing Dhinakaran’s victory has confirmed, it is that the EPS-OPS government’s expiry date is nearing. Since February, when EPS won the trust vote by keeping MLAs in captivity at the resort outside Chennai, the government has not faced an electoral test.
RK Nagar, therefore, was seen as a mini-referendum on how the people of Tamil Nadu, more so in the state capital, perceived their government. The result shows EPS and OPS have failed the test.
Which means is that Tamil Nadu will once again be thrown into political turmoil. There is a caste angle to this tug-of-war as well. Since EPS became chief minister, the Gounder community has been calling the shots, much to the dismay of the Thevars who controlled the AIADMK when VK Sasikala was the de facto boss. So far, within the party, the Thevars had thrown their weight behind OPS but RK Nagar has proved that Dhinakaran could be the Thevar political chieftain the AIADMK seeks.
“OPS and EPS are mere actors, TTV is for real,” said a Dhinakaran supporter outside his residence in Chennai. This win makes Sasikala’s nephew the inheritor of J Jayalalithaa’s legacy. Having won from the late chief minister’s constituency – from where she won in 2015 and 2016 – without a doubt, raises Dhinakaran’s political stature. That he won the election on the day MGR passed away 30 years ago made the occasion that much more significant.
The police seems to know which way the wind is blowing. Chennai-based television commentator Rangaraj Pandey pointed out how on 5 December, the first death anniversary of Jayalalithaa, Dhinakaran had just a single constable around him when he was at her samadhi. On Sunday, an entire posse of policemen provided him security.
The biggest loser on Sunday is OPS. Ten months ago, on a late evening, his stock rose with a dramatic revolt against Sasikala. The manner in which he merged his faction for a few crumbs of power showed he had feet of clay. E Madhusudhanan was his camp’s candidate, for he fought within the party. OPS even campaigned aggressively in RK Nagar and Madhusudhanan’s defeat is an indictment of Panneerselvam as well.
The AIADMK defeat also proves that a party symbol in itself means nothing. For all the talk of the loyal AIADMK voters’ allegiance to the two leaves symbol, on D-day, they decided to vote for the brand new pressure cooker instead. The victory reduces the AIADMK being headed by OPS to a house of cards which could collapse should Dhinakaran apply pressure.
The DMK had hoped to gain from the division in the AIADMK vote. In the end, Dhinakaran’s chemistry with the voter proved better than DMK’s arithmetic. It came a poor third, leading to wild conspiracy theories about whether the DMK deliberately lost the election to accelerate the ferment in the AIADMK camp. If that is true, many would question the wisdom in creating a situation where Dhinakaran, a formidable political mind, would emerge as a strong leader in the near future and a rival to the DMK.
The BJP, which was seen as indulging in backseat driving all through 2017, controlling the affairs of the AIADMK and the government, ended up with egg on its face, polling fewer votes than even None of the Above (NOTA). Not that the BJP was seen as a strong party in Chennai, but the result proved that it is at best a party confined to the television studios. It blamed money power for its performance forgetting that no one pays money to voters to punch on the NOTA symbol on the electronic voting machines (EVMs).
Finally, a word about free and fair elections. It was not a free election as no vote came free, with voters being bribed between Rs 6,000 and Rs 8,000 by every party. The BJP fared abysmally, polling less votes than NOTA but if there is one part of India that can confirm that achhe din have arrived, it is RK Nagar.