CHENNAI: Belying early projections that the real battle was between the ruling AIADMK and the main opposition DMK, independent candidate and rebel leader TTV Dhinakaran sprang a surprise on Sunday, racing ahead in one of the most high-profile and expensive byelection ever. He is all set for a dramatic victory in the RK Nagar bypoll.
Dhinakaran established an early lead after counting began at 8am at the counting centre located in the Queen Mary’s College near the Marina Beach front.
By the end of the second round, TTV was ahead of his rivals by more than 6,000 votes leaving AIADMK’s veteran leader-candidate E Madhusudhanan trailing with 4,500 votes and DMK’s N Maruthu Ganesh at 2,300 votes. By the third round, the lead had widened by 8,000 votes.
Before boarding a flight to Chennai from Madurai, a triumphant Dhinakaran told reporters, “Tamil Nadu people have spoken through RK Nagar voters. They have taught this traitor-AIADMK government a fitting lesson.”
Referring to the two leaves symbol that the Edappadi K Palaniswami-O Panneerselvam group won recently, Dhinakaran said sarcastically, “The party and symbol are not important in an election. It is whom the cadre backs that is important. People voted for MGR (AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran) and Jayalalithaa, but they won’t vote for an M N Nambiar or Veerappan (both former celluloid villains).”
At TTV’s Chennai residence, his supporters rejoiced, distributing sweets and setting off fireworks as elsewhere in the state they danced in celebration and raised slogans, ‘MGR-Dhinakaran’.
In contrast, despondency hung thick over the EPS-OPS camp. There were no cadres crowding their Greenways Road residences nor at the AIADMK headquarters in the heart of the city. The two leaders along with supporters paid their respects at the MGR memorial in the morning on the occasion of his death anniversary and remained indoors.
Earlier in the day, around 9.30am, counting was disrupted when violence broke out after AIADMK supporters vented their anger on electronic voting machines (EVMs) at the counting centre. CRPF personnel were quickly brought in to form a security cordon around the centre to provide protection to election staff, party representatives and journalists.
The outcome of the R K Nagar byelection, necessitated by the death of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa on December 5, 2016, has been touted as one that could establish several political indicators, coming as it did in the wake of a leadership turmoil in the AIADMK. For one, it could strengthen or shake the base of the EPS-OPS-led AIADMK.
Now, TTV is likely to be more determined to attempt to destabilise the government with his new-found confidence and victory. The AIADMK can seek solace in the fact that a majority of the MLAs may prefer to see the government complete its remaining three-and-a-half-term rather than go to polls now.
As for the DMK, fresh from the 2G verdict, its defeat in the bypoll may be considered a temporary setback which it may use as a spur to strength its base and gear up for civic polls and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. That a large line-up of parties, including Congress and left parties, on its side failed to help DMK was a reflection of the fact that the leadership struggle in the AIADMK was the real issue this byelection. Moreover, in the history of byelections in Tamil Nadu, only once has a non-ruling party candidate won it in the past.
The bypoll in R K Nagar was cancelled once in April this year following allegations of voter bribing. This time too, allegations were widespread about bribing by candidates and parties with voters themselves admitting to TOI of accepting Rs 10,000, Rs 6,000 and Rs 5,000 as cash to vote.
Despite the Election Commission cramming the constituency with battalions of para-military forces – CISF and CRPF – its flying squads and other monitoring staff seized unaccounted cash and cookers, which happens to be Dhinakaran’s symbol for the bypoll.
Observers point out that the R K Nagar constituency is an embodiment of all things unconstitutional and undemocratic — an election here was rescinded for corruption and there were allegations of shoddy preparation of electoral rolls that saw infusion of bogus votes.
Most of all, despite it being a VIP constituency since Jayalalithaa contested and won it in the 2015 byelection, the urban but backward constituency lacks decent infrastructure and perpetually sports a rundown look.