Irony died in RK Nagar. The by-election is witness to the ruling AIADMK blacking out from its campaign material, the person who the party up until last month, wanted to elect as its chief minister. VK Sasikala is the party interim general secretary and by virtue of that position, heads the party. Yet, there is no word about candidate TTV Dinakaran's aunt.
Dinakaran's decision to keep Sasikala out of the election discourse is deliberate. He knows that the negative vibes around her make her a political liability which is why he is trying to woo the women vote in RK Nagar using 'Amma'. So the posters have MGR, Jayalalithaa, even Annadurai and the new symbol, the hat. Men in Veshtis wearing a hat has become the latest fashion in RK Nagar this summer in Chennai.
But Sasikala is only out of sight, not out of mind. The chatter around the AIADMK in these localities, which has a substantial presence of migrants from other districts, invariably revolves around Sasikala. Dinakaran even though related to Sasikala, is incidental to the election. For all practical purposes, it is a fight between Sasikala who is seen as the person who wanted Amma's throne and O Panneerselvam, who by virtue of having stood in for Jayalalithaa twice before, is deemed to be her chosen one.
Not that anyone believes that Sasikala is out of the political narrative for good. The odds are on her return as the presiding deity dictating the fortunes of the party from inside Bengaluru central prison, once the election is over.
But by running a Sasikala-less campaign now, the Dinakaran camp has named the obvious. And it is being milked by the OPS camp that says it is an admission that the Sasikala name and face will make Dinakaran lose votes.
Dinakaran's attempt is to focus on himself as the political successor to Jayalalithaa. Which again is not a foolproof winning strategy considering Jayalalithaa had thrown Dinakaran and the rest of the Mannargudi family out of Poes Garden in 2011 and up until the time of her death, never took them back.
Will this election be decided on the basis of arithmetic or chemistry? In terms of a connect with the voters, the OPS candidate, E Madhusudhanan who is a local, has the advantage. He has the stature, by virtue of having been AIADMK presidium chairman and has represented RK Nagar in the assembly between 1991 and 1996. He knows most cadre by their first name which helps him reach out better in a critical election like this.
The DMK candidate Maruthuganesh too is a local and on paper, has the same advantage as Madhusudanan. If the DMK is able to hold on to its 57,000-odd votes that its candidate secured in 2016 against Jayalalithaa and hope the AIADMK vote share of 97,000 splits three ways between Dinakaran, Madhusudanan and Deepa Jayakumar, Jaya's niece, the DMK has a mathematical chance of romping home.
With chemistry admittedly weak, Dinakaran has a different calculation going on in his mind. He would ideally like to make the election about himself in order to split the anti-Dinakaran vote between the DMK, Madhusudanan, Deepa and BJP. The problem is that he does not have the oratorical powers to position himself as the tallest leader in the fray.
On the ground, the momentum seems to be with Panneerselvam. And that puts the DMK in a spot of bother. Though traditionally, by-elections have been been won by the ruling party in Tamil Nadu, it is very important for the DMK to win this one. Because if it does not win even in a post-Jayalalithaa situation where the AIADMK vote is splintered, where the two factions are fighting without their two leaves symbol, it will put a huge question mark over MK Stalin's ability to lead the party back to power.
The biggest dilemma for Stalin now is that at least in RK Nagar, the anger against Sasikala and the desire to teach her a lesson is translating into support for the OPS camp. Electorally that is bad news for the DMK.
The DMK calculation also is that Panneerselvam is a bigger threat to the DMK than Dinakaran. The thinking is that if the OPS camp wins, many more Sasikala camp MLAs will get restless and cross over. While it will bring down the government, necessitating an election, Panneerselvam will go to polls with his nose ahead and possibly armed with tacit support from the BJP as well.
From Stalin's point of view, a DMK victory with Dinakaran coming second will be the ideal scenario as inability to win in RK Nagar will make Panneerselvam look bad. The political scenario will then revert to a DMK vs AIADMK contest, which the DMK would hope to win riding on anti-incumbency against the regime.
More than anyone else, it will be a make or break election for Dinakaran. He has gone broke, putting all his eggs in the RK Nagar basket. Given the odds against him, he is unlikely to count the chicken before they hatch.
Updated Date: Mar 29, 2017 17:33 PM