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Dhinakaran could well be in a position to topple the government in Tamil Nadu

The story of how an independent candidate, without a symbol until three weeks ago swept an election humbling the two Goliaths of Tamil Nadu politics is worth examining

analysis Updated: Dec 26, 2017 08:03 IST
Sumanth Raman
Sumanth Raman
RK Nagar,Tamil Nadu,TTV Dhinakaran
AIADMK (Amma) deputy general secretary TTV Dhinakaran addressing the media at his residence in Chennai. (PTI)

The results of the RK Nagar by-election in Tamil Nadu took everyone by surprise. The surge in favour of Sasikala Natarajan’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran, who contested as an independent candidate, was palpable, but few could predict that he would topple the two established Kazhagams of Tamil politics: the AIADMK and the DMK. In the end Dhinakaran won by a margin of 40,707 votes, ahead of E Madhusudhanan of the AIADMK.

Allegations of rampant distribution of money were made against both Dhinakaran and the AIADMK. Between them the two factions of the AIADMK garnered almost 1.4 lakh of the 1.76 lakh votes cast. But clearly it was much more than money power that turned the tide in Dhinakaran’s favour. He succeeded in making himself the focus of the campaign. Smiling and unflappable under pressure (he was seen performing a puja during the recent IT raids against him ), his leadership qualities and composure stood out. The fact that he gambled big, staking his career on the RK Nagar result (a defeat may have ended his immediate political prospects) seems to have won the appreciation of Tamil Nadu’s voters.

Still, the story of how an independent candidate, without a symbol until three weeks ago and no clear ideology swept an election humbling the two Goliaths of Tamil Nadu politics is worth examining . If it was just anger against the ruling AIADMK, why did the benefit not go to its long-time rival DMK? While some of the surge for Dhinakaran can be explained by the split in the AIADMK vote, the implosion of the DMK was hardly expected. IDhinakaran taking half of the 97,000 votes that the AIADMK polled in 2016 in R K Nagar was plausible; him wresting 60% of the DMK’s 57,000 votes was not.

The principal opposition party suffered the humiliation of losing its deposit in a seat in Chennai for the first time in more than 50 years, raising doubts about its claim to be the party-in-waiting to form the next government. For a party, which was celebrating the acquittal of A Raja and Kanimozhi in the 2G case just 24 hours before the RK Nagar result, it came like a serious blow.

The result will be a bitter pill to swallow for the ruling AIADMK under chief minister Edappadi Palanisamy and deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam. They would not have minded a defeat at the hands of the DMK but to be beaten by Dhinakaran leaves them with the prospect of an unstable government. The matter of the disqualification of 18 MLAs allied to the victorious candidate earlier is sub-judice. All it will take to make the government’s position precarious is for a few more to cross over -- and that could happen soon. The state assembly should meet in the two months and there could be a floor test that could precipitate the next crisis.

Will Dhinakaran pull the government down? Beyond extracting revenge on the EPS-OPS faction, what will he gain by this? Can he replicate the RK Nagar result across the state? While these questions are being raised, an attempt could be made to evolve a compromise between the two factions and keep the government in place. The AIADMK government has more than three years left in office and TTV would gain nothing by pulling it down. A compromise formula can see him wield greater power in the party and the government. It will also give him time to consolidate his position. Tamil Nadu is in for interesting times. The ‘breaking news’ season is not ending anytime soon.

(The author is a political analyst based in Chennai. The views expressed are personal.)

First Published: Dec 26, 2017 08:02 IST