RK Nagar by-poll: Math and money the deciding factors, as OPS, Sasikala camps battle for AIADMK control

Some furious calculations are taking place in the O Panneerselvam camp as I write. That arithmetic exercise will determine what happens in the RK Nagar assembly constituency in the next 48 hours. The constituency that elected Jayalalithaa as its representative last year, goes to polls on 12 April.

O Panneerselvam. Image courtesy CNN-News18

O Panneerselvam. Image courtesy CNN-News18

On the grid are placed the number of votes the AIADMK and the DMK bagged in May 2016. Jayalalithaa got 97,218 votes while the DMK candidate Shimla Muthuchozhan had 57,673 votes in her kitty. All the parties involved believe that this time, the DMK candidate Marathuganesh will hold on to the 57,000-odd hardcore DMK vote and could even net another 8,000-odd of the neutral RK Nagar vote.

The race among the three branches of the AIADMK — TTV Dhinakaran, E Madhusudanan and Deepa Jayakumar — is to win a majority of the 97,000-odd votes that Jayalalithaa netted last year. The math is not complicated. Any one of them has to win more than 65,000 of the 97,000-strong AIADMK vote bank in order to pip DMK to the post. Otherwise, the DMK candidate Ganesh gains from the three-way split in the AIADMK vote.

Almost all surveys done by media houses and political parties have predicted that the OPS camp is ahead of Team Sasikala. But coming second in the race will not help Panneerselvam. For him to win comfortably over the DMK, Team OPS has to ensure Dhinakaran does not get more than 20,000-odd votes. Assuming Deepa will take away another 5,000-odd vote, this will leave Madhusudanan with about 70,000-odd votes, a buffer of just about 5,000 votes over the DMK.


That is the worry. The OPS camp alleges massive money distribution by Dhinakaran's men in the past week. The Rs 4,000 per vote that it alleges has been given, it fears, could force voters to choose the hat, Team Sasikala's symbol. If that increases Dhinakaran's vote share from 20,000 to about 35,000 votes, Panneerselvam's game will be up. The trick is to ensure Dhinakaran does not breach the 20,000 barrier.

The OPS camp, with some help from the BJP-led government at the Centre and Dhinakaran, with the Tamil Nadu government machinery working overtime, are engaged in pushing their numbers. The administrative structure is being used in every possible way to win this high-stakes battle.

The income tax raids on Health minister C Vijayabaskar and actor-turned-politician Sarath Kumar on Friday are seen as an indication. Only yesterday, Sarath Kumar had extended his support to Dhinakaran. Vijayabaskar is one of the most vocal critics of Panneerselvam and a staunch Sasikala loyalist.

Vijayabaskar has alleged that the I-T department is harassing him and Sarath Kumar has said the sleuths did not find anything at his place. There is no clarity yet on what tip-off led to the early morning raids at 35 locations in Tamil Nadu, including 21 in Chennai and whether it was linked to the RK Nagar election.

But the multiple signals that are being sent out are important. The nature of the I-T raids seems to indicate that in the AIADMK vs AIADMK battle for supremacy if you are not on Panneerselvam's side, you are a marked man. The fact that a senior minister and a top actor have been raided is to convey that no one is out of reach. The messaging is also intended for the voters who have been bribed and could well have an impact on voter psyche ahead of polling day.

Transfer of senior police officers is the norm during an election but this time, virtually the entire rank and file has been moved out. Even the revenue department has seen officers moved out of RK Nagar. The municipal corporation's assistant and executive engineers have been shunted out. Five observers have been deployed just in one constituency, the highest in India's electoral history. These unprecedented measures are aimed at cutting off any channel that provides political oxygen supply of any kind to Dhinakaran.


Not that the Dhinakaran camp is sitting silently. The arrest of one of Chennai's most high-profile realtor KR Anerudan on Wednesday in an old cheating case is seen as tit-for-tat as he is reportedly close to a senior leader in the OPS camp.

Puthiya Thalamurai, one of the leading Tamil news channels, found itself facing the rough end of the stick when it was switched off in 15 districts in Tamil Nadu. This after it aired a survey that showed an overwhelming preference for the OPS group. Though the government-controlled Arasu cable denied having anything to do with it, no one buys the claim of innocence.

Sources say the I-T raids may have achieved twin purposes. One, possibly prevented any plan to go in for the second round of distribution of money over the weekend. Not that the other parties are not distributing money. Their plan reportedly is to go in for targeted bribing which means paying money only to select 70,000-odd voters who they think will certainly vote for them.

While it is not clear if and what kind of evidence the I-T teams have got from the multiple raids, it is quite possible that if large-scale bribing is detected, the Election Commission could reason that the situation in RK Nagar is not conducive to conduct the by-election. A precedent was set in Aravakurichi and Thanjavur last year when elections were countermanded after raids unearthed a lot of cash and bribing of voters. Dhinakaran alleges that the raids are with an eye to postpone the elections.

Tamil Nadu is not new to a rainfall of goodies at election time. In 2003, sarees, utensils and cash were distributed in Sathankulam in Tuticorin district and the ruling AIADMK won the by-poll. Six years later, the DMK returned the compliment with what is now infamously known as the Thirumangalam formula in the constituency in Madurai district. Guided reportedly by Karunanidhi's son MK Alagiri, money was put in an envelope along with the DMK sign and attached to the newspaper on the morning of the election. DMK won the election.

So while it is lottery time for the 2 lakh voters in RK Nagar, what is galling is that this farce of a democratic exercise will then determine the political future of Tamil Nadu.


Published Date: Apr 07, 2017 06:15 pm | Updated Date: Apr 07, 2017 06:15 pm



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