Worship or Assault


Election Commission’s decision over AIADMK symbol row could hand advantage to OPS camp candidate Madhusudhanan over Sasikala’s candidate Dinakaran in RK Nagar by-poll


The two leaves have withered in the summer of 2017, thanks to the heat generated by the two rival camps of the AIADMK. In technical parlance, they have been frozen, which means the RK Nagar by-election on 12 April will not see either the two leaves symbol or the AIADMK name in its present form being used by any candidate. Ironically, both OPS and Sasikala camp are fighting in the name of late Jayalalitha without realizing the way they are at warheads for power and swearing-in in the name of ‘Amma’, people of Tamil Nadu are getting confused who is worshipping and who is assaulting Jayalalitha?

What the two candidates — TTV Dinakaran belonging to the VK Sasikala camp and E Madhusudhanan from the O Panneerselvam camp — have done is to choose a party name that shows their linkage to the AIADMK. So RK Nagar will see a contest between AIADMK Amma (Sasikala camp) and AIADMK Puratchi Thalaivi Amma (OPS camp). Throw MGR Amma Deepa Peravai — the outfit started by Jayalalithaa’s niece, Deepa — into the mix and you realize Amma’s stamp is all over this alphabet soup battle for her constituency.

The two factions of the AIADMK have also chosen two symbols. While OPS has gone with an electric pole with its close resemblance to two leaves, Sasikala went for the hat.

Both groups are, however, not likely to give up without exhausting the legal option. They will go to Supreme Court challenging the EC order that said that since there is insufficient time before the byelection to go through 20,000 pages of material submitted by the parties, freezing the symbol is the only option.

In the run-up to the EC hearing, chief minister Edapaddi Palaniswami is believed to have told close confidants that the Sasikala faction will get the symbol. He was banking on the Akhilesh Yadav precedent earlier this year where by virtue of leading the government and a majority of the party, Yadav Junior bagged the cycle. But in the case of AIADMK, the cloud over Sasikala’s election as interim general secretary in December 2016 threw a spanner in the works, with the rival camp calling it illegal. Under the party constitution, anyone aspiring for the post needs to be a member for five continuous years, which Sasikala is not.

The AIADMK story differed from the SP saga in another respect as well. While a majority of the MLAs and MPs are with Sasikala, the cadre is seen to be with OPS. The Panneerselvam camp submitted over 8,000 affidavits to buttress its claim.

But beyond the legalese, why the order is significant is because of the sentimental attachment the AIADMK rank and file and the people at large have with the symbol. It was chosen by MG Ramachandran and is therefore seen as part of his legacy. Expect Dinakaran and the Sasikala camp to go hammer and tongs at Panneerselvam, accusing him of having played a villainous role in robbing the AIADMK of the symbol.

What this will do immediately is to, on the face of it, put the ruling AIADMK at a disadvantage. For most old-time AIADMK loyalists, fans of MGR and Jayalalithaa, the two leaves symbol has been the EVM button to go to, inside the booth. Dinakaran now has the task of ensuring people in the constituency, which is largely a middle and lower middle class area, know his new symbol. But, he should consider himself lucky that the awareness level about the tussle over symbol would be high in urban constituency like RK Nagar. If the by-election had been in a rural constituency, the odds against Dinakaran would have been higher.

Though Madhusudhanan too will feel the pinch, as it will amount to starting from scratch, it now nullifies the advantage Dinakaran would have had with the symbol. In that sense, the EC decision to freeze the symbol is Advantage Panneerselvam over Sasikala and explains the sense of jubilation in the OPS camp. The DMK, even though it has fielded a low-profile candidate would fancy its chances now in RK Nagar even though the seat traditionally has been an AIADMK stronghold, with the DMK last winning from here in 1996. At least, its rising sun is a more well-known symbol.

Both Dinakaran and Madhusudhanan filed their nominations on Thursday, the last day for doing so after visiting the Amma memorial. The samadhi has been a pitstop for both candidates, as the optics only buttresses their claim to be the inheritors of her political legacy. The stakes are high for both camps as RK Nagar pretty much will set the tone for what happens in Tamil Nadu after 15 April, when the results will be announced.

Very few expected Dinakaran to throw his hat into the ring in a battle that will undoubtedly be tough. Now that he has done so, RK Nagar election will virtually be a referendum on his and his aunt’s leadership. If Dinakaran wins, he will be here to stay, with chances of taking over as CM very high. The OPS camp will then run out of political oxygen in the short term.

But if he loses, mid-summer political madness is sure to set in. Hence, the verdict will then be interpreted as Tamil Nadu refusing to cast its lot with Chinnamma and company. Given that the Palaniswami government survives with a slender majority, just half a dozen legislators changing their mind could bring the regime down. Either way, Palaniswami is on a sticky wicket personally.

History is repeating itself because in 1988-89 after MGR’s death, with both Janaki and Jayalalithaa factions staking claim to the two leaves, the symbol was temporarily frozen. Janaki then fought on the two pigeon’s symbol while Jayalalithaa’s symbol was the rooster. The result of the RK Nagar poll could result in a realignment of forces within the two AIADMK camps, more so if Dinakaran loses. Just like it did after the 1989 rout for both AIADMK factions.

In February, I met MGR Murugan, a rickshawpuller from Salem at the AIADMK headquarters in Chennai. An MGR fan and an AIADMK activist, Murugan had styled his hair as two leaves, even painting them green. He has his task cut out — he needs to change his hairdo immediately.