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The stunning rise of TTV Dhinakaran in Tamil Nadu politics

Since winning the RK Nagar bypoll, Dhinakaran appears unfazed by the raft of corruption charges against him and his aunt, sidelined AIADMK leader VK Sasikala, who is serving a four-year term in jail.

india Updated: Jan 12, 2018 07:42 IST
KV Lakshmana
KV Lakshmana
Hindustan Times, Chennai
TTV Dhinakaran,All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam,AIADMK
A supporter wears a ring with an image of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa's, as he shows a photograph of AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran after his swearing-in ceremony, at Secretariat in Chennai, on December 29, 2017. (PTI)

TTV Dhinakaran has a spring in his step these days. The expelled All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader is riding high on a big victory in the RK Nagar bypoll last month, and experts say his entry in the Tamil Nadu assembly has made the government anxious.

But most of all, his win as an independent over the AIADMK and opposition DMK by a margin even bigger than that of late CM J Jayalalithaa, who represented the constituency till her death in December 2016, has helped him position himself as the true inheritor of her legacy.

The 54-year-old leader now appears unfazed by the raft of corruption charges against him and his aunt, sidelined AIADMK leader VK Sasikala, who is serving a four-year term in jail. Even the taunts of “Mannargudi mafia”, the name of their ancestral village used to describe the aunt-nephew duo, don’t seem to stick. “Do I look like a gangster?” he asked reporters this Sunday with a smile. “A lot was written about us saying we were Mannargudi mafia and worse things, but people of RK Nagar have accepted me. Only they (BJP) have made me popular,” he added, apparently referring to the corruption cases against him that he alleges were foisted by the saffron party. “I will fight out the cases legally.”

Political commentator Ramu Manivannan of Madras University felt that Dhinakaran, who was sidelined weeks after he assumed control of the party last year, has shown that he was not a ‘Yes Man’. He also believed Dhinakaran had the edge when compared with the popular perception of his rivals: Chief minister E Palaniswami and deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam.

“But what Dhinakaran can achieve in a 234-assembly fight remains to be seen though for sure he is certainly a pick among the crowd in Tamil Nadu,” Prof Manivannan said. Dhinakaran himself is confident of keeping the government nervous with his talk of “sleeper cells” and his backing of any no-confidence motion brought by the DMK.

“There is a ban on AIADMK MLAs and ministers on meeting and greeting me. But some of them stealthily greet and pay respects,” he says.

The AIADMK has 116 of the 234 MLAs, the DMK has 89 and with its allies totals 98. Eighteen MLAs loyal to Dhinakaran stand disqualified and their petition is in Madras HC. Despite increasing speculation, the ruling faction has kept its flock together and even got back its iconic “two leaves” symbol. Then there is the taint of large-scale misuse of money power in the RK Nagar bypoll, which was scrapped once after the Election Commission found proof of voter bribery. But experts believe Dhinakaran’s public persona might garner him more popularity in the coming days. “Dhinakaran seems to have overcome the perception of hailing from a mafia family of Tamil Nadu to a darling of his cadre and media, especially when it comes to his cool and composed style of communication,” said political analyst John Arokiaswamy.

When compared to the rest of the leaders, his mastery of communication and ground outreach make him a potential big leader, he added. But with a rider.

“He can be a significant player provided his political career is insulated from potential legal setbacks,” Arokiaswamy said.

The charges are many: Violations of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, corruption, money laundering, bribing election commission officials and even sedition. If any of these stick, experts warn, his rise could be a temporary phenomenon.

First Published: Jan 12, 2018 07:42 IST