RK Nagar bypoll: ‘Prestige’ contest over Jayalalithaa’s legacy drowns everyday woes

The RK Nagar assembly constituency is set for a bypoll on April 12 following the death of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa who represented it.

india Updated: Mar 31, 2017 23:25 IST
KV Lakshmana
KV Lakshmana
Hindustan Times, Chennai
RK Nagar bypoll,J Jayalalithaa,Tamil Nadu politics
Garbage dump yard at RK Nagar area of Chennai. The RK Nagar assembly constituency is set for a bypoll on April 12 following the death of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa who represented it. (HT Photo )

J Jayanthi is a resident of Chennai’s RK Nagar, considered a VIP constituency that was represented by former chief minister J Jayalalithaa till her death. But the problems the 36-year-old teacher faces are not out of the ordinary.

Mountains of uncollected garbage make it difficult for Jayanthi to live in the Kodungaiyur neigbourhood of the constituency set for a byelection on April 12.

As rival political parties lock horns over what is being billed a prestige contest dramatised further by a fight over Jayalalithaa’s legacy among rival factions of her AIADMK, the stench from the dump has got stronger.

The dump breeds mosquitoes and flies and Jayanthi battles them round the clock. “Just open your mouth, you will be forced to swallow many,” she says. But the hazard notwithstanding, she has now chosen to raise her voice against what she says is a lack of amenities, ranging from inadequate supply of drinking water to the absence of a flyover at the Korukkupet railway crossing.

Jayanthi is contesting on a ticket of the My National My Right Party, an outfit floated by those behind January’s Jalllikattu protests, when thousands of youth gathered against a ban on the bull-taming sport.

Though lack of development is a pressing issue, politicians with their high-decibel campaigns in RK Nagar have pushed local problems down the priority list. The electoral contest with 50-odd candidates in the fray is primarily on appropriating Jayalalithaa’s legacy.

Women queueing up for drinking water, an everyday affair in the RK Nagar constituency. (HT Photo )

Radhakrishna Nagar has been a fortress for the AIADMK since 2001. The party had won from the seat even when the rival DMK swept the rest of Tamil Nadu. Jayalalithaa won a byelection from here with a margin of 1.5 lakh votes in 2015, though her margin dwindled to 39,000 votes during the assembly elections the next year.

Her association with the seat that fell vacant on her death last December has raised the stakes for her erstwhile party’s members. A victory for the AIADMK faction led by Jayalalithaa’s jailed confidant Sasikala would help in consolidating the latter’s grip over both party and government, currently headed by chief minister EK Palaniswami. Sasikala’s nephew, TTV Dinanakaran, is the party candidate.

A defeat, and particularly a victory for the AIADMK faction led by former chief minister O Panneerselvam, will throw up political prospects pregnant with possibilities. Since the fight is essentially over staking claim on Jayalalithaa’s legacy, the faction has fielded E Madhusudhanan, a party veteran that the late leader trusted.

DMK candidate arrives to file nomination papers for RK Nagar bypoll. (HT Photo)

The split within the AIADMK has emboldened rival DMK which is hoping to reap political dividends by fishing in troubled waters. The party hopes its candidate NM Ganesh will win as feuding AIADMK factions battle each other. “Although the DMK candidate is not a high-profile one, this confusion over the splitting of the AIADMK vote gives the opposition DMK an edge,” says Professor Ramu Manivannan of the Madras University.

Even the BJP, fresh from its victories in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, is looking to make inroads into the state by wresting the seat. It has fielded music composer Gagain Amaran – brother of legendary musician Ilaiyaraaja – as its candidate. The result will be music to our ears, say party leaders.

Also in the fray to stake claim over Jayalalithaa’s legacy is her niece, Deepa Jayakumar. She is contesting on behalf of MGR Amma Deepa Peravai Party, promising to free her aunt’s AIADMK from self-seekers and revive the party.

Back in the lanes and by lanes of RK Nagar, there is a growing sense of being let down by the politicians who seem preoccupied by their own political necessities. “If there is a credible alternative, we will surely consider. But for the present, it is either the AIADMK or the DMK,” says S Prakash, a medical representative.

The stakes are high and there are already whispers of parties attempting to lure voters. “The going rate is 10,000 rupees per vote or one gram of gold,” alleges Ebenezer John, a functionary of the party floated by Jallikattu protesters. Besides the candidates, the Election Commission also has a fight on hand to keep the by-election free and fair.

First Published: Mar 23, 2017 17:15 IST