AIADMK is not likely to lose sleep over RK Nagar bypoll
Last week’s decision by the Election Commission to award the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol which is virtually the mascot of the party to the AIADMK group led by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and deputy CM O Panneerselvam dealt a body blow to the Sasikala- TTV Dinakaran faction’s chances of being seen as a serious contender to Jayalalithaa’s legacy.
While the decision was widely expected, as the EPS-OPS group had an overwhelming majority of lawmakers (both MLAs and MPs) as well as general council members of the party on their side, the decision to award the name of the party to their group along with the symbol now means that Dinakaran or his faction members cannot technically call themselves part of the AIADMK anymore.
Immediately after the EC verdict, came the announcement about the much-delayed RK Nagar bypoll. The by-election, which was necessitated by the demise of Jayalalithaa on December 5, 2016, was cancelled in April after it was alleged that rampant bribing of voters took place. It is now scheduled to be held on December 21, with the result to be declared on December 24.
The announcement of the bypoll has also seen minor factionalism break out again between the EPS and OPS camps. The announcement of the name of the AIADMK candidate, which should have been a formality as the earlier poll had only been put off (the DMK re-nominated the same candidate) had to be reportedly postponed by a couple of days allegedly due to differences between the factions. They did however succeed in announcing a revamped governing council comprising of nine members, adding some members to placate both factions.
Despite the bickering, much of it from those who supported OPS and feel left out in the cold now that he and a couple of others from his group got themselves positions of power, there is little likelihood of any full-scale rebellion. Both EPS and OPS apparently have advised their supporters that they are not to speak to the media except on governance issues and all political communication should be handled by the designated spokespersons only. Whether this will work in practice remains to be seen.
Further, OPS put out a tweet soon after reports of him not being invited to a party function in Madurai surfaced, saying that the government under the leadership of EPS was following in the footsteps of Jayalalithaa. Sources close to OPS confirm that he is in no mood to rock the boat and there is going to be no revolt.
The AIADMK itself faces a herculean task in the RK Nagar bypoll. With anti-incumbency (six-and-a-half years in power), no charismatic leader and a united Opposition (the Congress, CPI, VCK, MMK have extended support to the DMK candidate) it is going to be an uphill battle. The only real factor in their favour is the tradition across India of ruling parties winning by-elections and if they re-nominate their presidium chairman E Madhusudhanan they will have a veteran candidate who knows the constituency well. Still at this point of time one must believe that the DMK is the favourite to win the bypoll. While Dinakaran has announced that he will contest in RK Nagar, he is unlikely to create a major impact beyond damaging the AIADMK’s chances to some extent.
Win or lose, the AIADMK will look beyond RK Nagar. A defeat here is not likely to threaten the stability of the state government. There does not seem to be any immediate threat to it though an adverse verdict in any of the spate of pending court cases could alter that.
Both EPS and OPS and their supporters know that any action at this stage that threatens the stability of the government will result in a loss for both sides and with three-and-a-half years of the government still ahead that will be the last thing they want to do. The bickering will go on though. After several decades of the iron leadership of Jayalalithaa when the public hardly heard them speak, the AIADMK leaders have discovered that they actually have a voice. They are not going to stop speaking.
Sumanth Raman is a Chennai-based television anchor and political analyst
The views expressed are personal