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A Tamil Nadu bypoll will decide the future of 4 leaders, 2 parties & alliances

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OPS, EPS, Dinakaran, and Stalin’s futures are at stake in R.K. Nagar. It will also indicate new political alliances before the 2019 LS polls.

Why is the upcoming R.K. Nagar by-election important for political parties in Tamil Nadu? It’s because the poll has the potential to change political equations.

The bypoll has assumed importance because the late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa held the seat. In the normal course, the results too would have been predictable, because since 1989, every bypoll in the state has been won by the party that has been in power at the time.

The bypoll was originally scheduled for 12 April. In the run-up to the poll, the Election Commission rescinded it, after receiving complaints of large-scale money distribution by then-AIADMK (Amma) candidate T.T.V. Dinakaran and his associates. Now, the poll is scheduled for 21 December.

R.K. Nagar is important for several reasons. In her three-decade long political life, Jaya faced seven assembly polls and six bypolls, twice representing this constituency – in 2015 and 2016. The AIADMK has held the seat since 2001, but this will be the first time in 28 years that the party will be fighting an election without Jayalalithaa’s charismatic leadership.

The situation has changed dramatically in the AIADMK in the past six months. The two warring factions, led by Chief Minister E. Palaniswami and his predecessor O. Panneerselvam, had merged in August. Leaders who were backing V.K. Sasikala eventually ditched her and joined hands with the ruling combine.

More importantly, the EPS-OPS faction got a big boost after the Election Commission allotted the frozen ‘two leaves’ symbol to the united AIADMK last month. It also upheld the 12 September resolution of the party’s General Council to oust Sasikala as the general secretary, and to abolish the post itself.

Interestingly, the AIADMK is the only party whose poll symbol has been frozen and restored twice by the Election Commission – first, in 1988 after the death of M.G. Ramachandran, and now again in 2017. When Jaya regained the ‘two leaves’ symbol after winning an internal battle with MGR’s wife Janaki, she led the party to victories in Marungapuri, Madurai East, and Peranamallur constituencies – the last time an opposition party won a standalone by-election in Tamil Nadu.

Over the years, the ‘two leaves’ (AIADMK) and the ‘rising sun’ (DMK) which have been drilled into the psyche of the people through movies and songs. Dinakaran and Sasikala have moved the high court challenging the Election Commission’s decision.

What does it mean for the stakeholders? For the ruling AIADMK combine, the bypoll is the first test of the popularity for the 10-month-old EPS-OPS government, which has already seen three chief ministers. Winning the seat is important to claim Jaya’s legacy. Moreover, the disqualification of 18 pro-Dinakaran MLAs by the Speaker, currently under challenge before the Madras High Court, has already reduced the government to a minority after the rebellion.

In the emerging scenario, the AIADMK has repeated its presidium chairman E. Madhusudanan, an old war horse, as its candidate. He is a party veteran, who had represented the same constituency in 1991. He has a good chance if there is no internal sabotage.

For Dinakaran, who has filed his nomination again as an independent candidate, it will be a rough road. He has lost his hold on the party. He has been discredited after his arrest in April for allegedly attempting to bribe an Election Commission official to get the ‘two leaves’ symbol for his faction. Aunt Sasikala, the brain behind the AIADMK coming to power in February, is behind bars. Moreover, Dinakaran now has the support of only 18 MLAs, as the others have gone with the ruling combine. A win could enable him to claim Jaya’s legacy.

Jaya’s niece Deepa Jayakumar, who has floated her own outfit, was planning to contest as an independent and split the vote three ways. However, her nomination was rejected.

The resurgent DMK might pose a threat to the AIADMK. For M.K. Stalin, it will be the first test to prove his leadership qualities after taking over as the DMK working president in January. The DMK has repeated Maruthu Ganesh, a lawyer, as the party’s candidate for the bypoll. His prospects have brightened with the Viduthalai Siruthai Katchi, a Dalit outfit with considerable clout in the constituency, extending its support. The Congress, too, is supporting its UPA ally DMK. The Left parties may also back the DMK candidate. Stalin has to keep the opposition votes intact.

The BJP, which does not have a single MLA, has fielded its spokesman Karu Nagarajan. Film stars like Rajinikant and Kamal Haasan have shown an interest in politics. Taking many by surprise, film actor Vishal, president of the Tamil Nadu Film Producers’ Council and the Nadigar Sangam general secretary, had also jumped into the fray, filing his nomination as an independent. This also was rejected by the EC.

In short, the R.K. Nagar bypoll will not only decide the future of OPS, EPS, Dinakaran, Stalin, Deepa, and Vishal but also indicate the new political alliances before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Kalyani Shankar is a columnist, former Political Editor of the Hindustan Times and former Washington correspondent of the Hindustan Times.

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  1. The author purposefully has not mentioned about Naam Tamilar candidate. Naam tamilar candidate had higher vote share than BJP in the pre-poll survey.

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