AIADMK May Lose Badly in Tamil Nadu Due To ‘Rebel’ TTV Dhinakaran

Dhinakaran’s key focus is to bring down the ruling dispensation, which means, defeating the AIADMK.

5 min read

Along with the parliamentary elections, by-elections to 18 of the 22 assembly constituencies that are vacant in Tamil Nadu, to be held on 18 April, will determine the longevity of Chief Minister E Palanisamy’s government in the state.

In fact, the number of assembly segments left vacant mid-term, largely due to the disqualification of rebel AIADMK MLAs led by TTV Dhinakaran, is unprecedented in the state’s history.

It is also unprecedented in terms of the impact the by-elections could have, perhaps the same importance as that of a fresh state assembly election. This is despite the controversial decision of the Election Commission to hold the polls only for 18 seats and not all 22 that are vacant, as per the state Opposition’s demand.


By-Polls Will Determine Who’ll Be in Control of AIADMK

At the moment the chief minister claims to be enjoying the support of just 114 MLAs in the 234-member house (235 if one nominated member is included). These numbers are not certain, and some of the MLAs in the list of 114 have deserted the government. However, even if all 114 are taken into account, the government will fall short of a majority by four votes in a full house. The only reason it survived is because the numbers in the house had come down to 212 because of the vacant seats.

So, when the house comes closer to its full strength the ruling dispensation will be in serious trouble if it loses a majority of it in the by-elections.

Further, the DMK and Congress together have 96 seats, and are only 22 seats short of the required numbers. A decisive victory in the by-polls could get the Opposition very close to a simple majority. And a sweep in all 18 will certainly give it the numbers to form a government.

These by-polls will also determine who will be in control of the AIADMK as a party. The party leadership has been fighting a bitter battle for control since J Jayalalithaa’s demise.

Moreover, the by-polls will be a decisive moment for AIADMK voters to decide whether they are with the ruling dispensation or the break-away faction led by TTV Dhinakaran, the nephew of Jayalaithaa’s aide VN Sasikala.

Will Dhinakaran Carry On Jayalalithaa’s Legacy?

In every meeting he has addressed across the state, Dhinakaran, who launched the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), has been on a single-point agenda – to bring down the present government. His speeches revolve around asserting himself as the inheritor of Jayalalithaa’s political legacy.

Dhinakaran’s first assertion that he was the ‘people’s choice’ to take over the party was when, as an independent candidate, he decimated the ruling AIADMK faction in the 2017 by-elections to the RK Nagar seat in Chennai, which was represented by Jayalalithaa.

Since then, he has been holding grassroots level meetings and has been in touch with large sections of the party, including legislators and ministers, in an effort to bring down the E Palanisamy government. Even if he does not manage to win the assembly seats going to polls, his campaign is certain to create a split in the AIADMK, and that is disastrous for the party.


Dhinakaran’s Main Objective

Firstly, these 18 seats were represented by AIADMK MLAs who backed Dhinakaran, and many of them have been fielded again. Secondly, 11 of these 18 seats were won by the AIADMK, under J Jayalalithaa’s leadership, by a margin of less than 15,000 votes, and two were won by a margin of less than 1,000 votes – Perambur (519 votes) and Thiruporur (950 votes).

This reiterates how close the contest was in 2016, when J Jayalalithaa and the AIADMK were at the peak of their power and now, even a small drop in the vote shares could swing them decisively in favour of the Opposition.

Further, Dhinakaran’s prime focus is to bring down the ruling dispensation, and for that, he only needs to ensure that the AIADMK loses the seats and not necessarily that he wins them.

This same electoral logic applies to the parliamentary polls as well. Dhinakaran has fielded candidates in 38 of the 39 parliamentary seats and his campaign is one that is firmly against the AIADMK ruling establishment. In simple words, he is certain to split the traditional AIADMK vote, and that will leave not just the AIADMK, but its allies the BJP and PMK in serious trouble.


A Lesson From The Past

The only time in history that such a split was witnessed was in 1989, when J Jayalalithaa fought with the party founder MG Ramachandran’s widow, Janaki Ramachandran, over control of the party.

While it is difficult to compare the present situation with the 1989 scenario, the lesson from the past is simple – a split in the AIADMK vote leaves the DMK in charge of Tamil Nadu.

In the 2014 polls, the AIADMK virtually swept Tamil Nadu. Except in two seats, it won all its 37 seats by a margin of over one lakh votes. The PMK won its lone seat by close to 80,000 and the BJP, which was in an alliance with the PMK and a couple of other regional parties, won its only seat by over a 1 lakh votes.

But 2014 was an exception, and a massive sweep election, like it was in the rest of the country. In any normal election the difference between the DMK alliance and an AIADMK alliance has been only around 5 percent votes, and seats are won by closer margins.

While Tamil Nadu has almost always provided a clean sweep for one side or the other in terms of seats, in terms of vote shares it has been a close battle in most elections. And 2019 seems to be at best a normal election, if not an anti-central government sweep election in the state, and perhaps elsewhere in south India.

In this scenario, even if Dhinakaran manages to corner only around 10 percent votes – he seems to have potential to achieve much more – he could tilt the scales decisively against the ruling party. His presence also throws the conventional electoral arithmetic of the AIADMK for a toss, and given that his agenda to topple the government aligns with the Opposition DMK’s goals, a tacit understanding may not be improbable.

(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @TMVRaghav . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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