RK Nagar bypolls: Jayalalithaa's constituency could be the key to Tamil Nadu's political riddle

The RK Nagar bypolls scheduled for 12 April promises to be the 'Amma' of all electoral battles. Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar, that was represented by former chief minister Jayalalithaa in the Tamil Nadu assembly twice, will have its date with the EVM on 12 April. When the former chief minister chose to contest from Chennai for the first time in her political career, she zeroed in on RK Nagar. She won from the seat in June 2015, one month after she was acquitted in the Disproportionate Assets case by the Karnataka High court. She chose to contest again from RK Nagar when the state went to polls in May 2016.

But a lot of water has flown in the Cooum since then. What is certain is that it will not be a cakewalk for either of the two factions of the AIADMK. After managing to win the trust vote on 18 February on the floor of the House, this will be the second big test for the Mannargudi family-led AIADMK.

The Sasikala camp knows it has its back against the wall. Public resentment against Sasikala's attempt to become chief minister came to the fore in February. And from the chatter on the street, it has shown no signs of dying down. Given the antipathy, a candidate from the ruling AIADMK will find the going tough in RK Nagar. It will be difficult for the party managers to justify their allegiance to a convict in Bengaluru central prison.

VK Sasikala. PTI

VK Sasikala. PTI

When Sasikala was chosen as general secretary in December, most expected her to contest from RK Nagar. The conviction in the DA case poured water over all those hopes. It looks unlikely that given how the wind is blowing, her nephew TTV Dinakaran, who Sasikala appointed as the deputy general secretary just before she left for Bengaluru, will want to test the waters in RK Nagar. A local leader from the area is likely to be favoured.

It is a test for the rebel AIADMK as well. RK Nagar will show if all the social media chatter is for real or only a bubble that will be burst when the results are announced on 15 April. In keeping with its image as the cleaner of the two AIADMKs, the O Panneerselvam camp wants to field an honest candidate. One choice could be AIADMK presidium chairman E Madhusudanan who has represented the constituency in 1991-96. But sources within the party are mulling fielding Chennaite and Rajya Sabha member Dr V Maitreyan.

There is however, a hitch should Panneerselvam choose Maitreyan. If he wins, the oncologist will have to resign from the Upper House and the OPS camp will lose an articulate voice in Parliament. Besides, given the slender majority with which Edappadi Palaniswami is surviving, it is anyone's guess how long the regime will survive. A loss in RK Nagar could be the first jolt that could expose the fault-lines in the ruling front.

What will worry both factions of the AIADMK also is the fading Amma aura. When Jayalalithaa contested in 2015, she won by a margin of 1.5 lakh votes. But her margin went down significantly to just 39,000-odd votes a year later. One reason for that of course is that barring the CPI, all other parties decided not to put up a candidate against Jayalalithaa in the 2015 by-election.

But the Amma name is the only thing that Deepa Jayakumar is banking on. Founder of the MGR Amma Deepa Peravai, Deepa plans to be in the fray. But her handicap will be the lack of a party organisation and lack of experience in politics and election management. Waving to the crowds from the balcony, Jayalalithaa-style is one thing, organising a campaign with booth-level cadre to win an election, quite another.

The DMK that has not won from this AIADMK stronghold since 2001, will fancy its chances if the Amma vote is splintered between the two AIADMKs and Deepa. In 2016, it fielded Shimla Muthuchozhan, a lawyer against Jayalalithaa and given that she ran against the former chief minister with a close margin, Shimla could be MK Stalin's choice once again.

However, if both factions of the AIADMK stake claim, as they will, to the 'two leaves' symbol of the party, the ball will be in the Election Commission's court. While the Sasikala camp will claim to be the real AIADMK because it is in power, Panneerselvam is banking on the EC to disqualify her election as general secretary. He also points out that the presidium chairman Madhusudanan is on his side. If the EC freezes the symbol, both sides will lose out.

The RK Nagar bypoll is only the electoral appetiser as it will be immediately followed by the elections to the local bodies. The results to the municipal corporations and other bodies will give a real sense of the mood on the ground. And should they go against Sasikala's AIADMK, Chennai could be in for some mid-summer political action.

Updated Date: Mar 10, 2017 19:02 PM

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