Chennai: Looking relaxed in an informal attire on Sunday after all the big blows and high decibels in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections have been delivered, dissident AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakraan made one wonder whether he was still being enigmatic or exuding a strategic laconic style in his manner of speaking.
Visibly nonchalant to his recently floated outfit Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) - which is still not formally registered with the Election Commission of India (ECI) - drawing a gracious blank in both the Lok Sabha and the 22 Assembly by-elections in Tamil Nadu, Dhinakaran chuckles: “Yes, our sleeper cells will come awake when there is a vote of confidence (in the House).”
During the recent election campaign, one of TTV’s ‘lions’ from the south, Thanga Tamizhselvan made a thought-provoking remark that the DMK may need their (AMMK) help to oust the present AIADMK regime led by Edappadi K Palaniswami and O Pannerselvam in a trial of strength, hinting AMMK’s position would exceed its singularity in the House. Now, TTV Dhinakaran is the lone MLA in the House.
Interestingly, Thanga Tamizhselvan had first shot into the public limelight by instantly resigning his Andipatti Assembly seat in Theni district in the South - where the ‘Mukkulathors’ are a force to be reckoned with- to let Ms J Jayalalithaa to contest a crucial bypoll in 2002 that had enabled her come back as state Chief Minister then. He thus carried an aura of cheer, courage, a give-and-take spirit.
Tamizhselvan’s remarks were greeted with glee by the EPS-OPS camp, as it would strengthen their hypothesis of a tacit understanding between AMMK and DMK on the ground, even as it sent notes of discomfort to MK Stalin who was undeniably the most roaring campaigner in the just concluded elections. The DMK is clear in not giving room to any suspicion that it needs the AMMK’s support.
What really then was the impact of TTV Dhinakaran in this twin election so to say, one vote for the Lok Sabha and in 22 Assembly segments another vote for the future of the state government as well. With the AMMK candidates technically contesting as ‘Independents’, though thanks to the Supreme court’s 11th hour intervention they managed to get a ‘gift pack’ common symbol, the vote share percentages put out by the ECI does not have a separate column for his party.
Yet, quick calculations indicate the AMMK candidates have polled about 5.25 per cent of the total popular votes polled in the 37 Lok Sabha seats they contested, as it had left one seat to the SDPI in Chennai. The AMMK approximately shares the same percentage level in the 22 Assembly by-polls also despite some impressive polling it saw in segments like Andipatti, Periyakulam, Manamadurai, Paramakudi, Sulur, Thiruparankundram and Ottapidaram, Tiruvarur and Thanjavur.
By eating into the AIADMK’s votes, the AMMK has played the spoiler for the ruling party in some south constituencies, which has helped the DMK in Assembly constituencies like Ottapidaram and Thiruparankundram. In some others, like say Pappireddipatti and Harur Assembly segments, AMMK’s limited ability to cut into the AIADMK votes had in fact pushed the DMK to the second place in those places. In some other constituencies though like in Perambur in Chennai city and Hosur, TTV’s acolytes like P Vetrivel and Va.Pugazehndhi have hit a pathetic low.
If AMMK’s impact vis-à-vis the Assembly bypolls has been a mixed bag, Dhinakaran’s party has played a crucial catalytic role in inadvertently bettering the chances of the DMK- Congress alliance candidates in some Lok Sabha constituencies. Notable among them where AMMK’s vote-cutting potential was felt, either partly or substantially, were in Dharmapuri, Chidambaram, Madurai (where late Speaker Dr Kalimuthu’s son David Annadurai as AMMK nominee and Kamal Haasan’s MNM candidate have both cut into AIADMK’s votes to enable CPI(M)’s candidate Su. Venkatesan score a comfortable win), and partly in Ramanathapuram, Tenkasi, Tirupur and Virudhunagar. In Theni, it was a different story with AMMK’s Thanga Tamizhselvan polling over 1.44 lakh votes eventually helped the AIADMK’s candidate and O. Pannerselvam’s son P Ravindranath Kumar to beat the Congress candidate, EVKS Elangovan by a small margin for a Lok Sabha constituency.
It is thus reasonable to infer that despite AMMK’s overall vote-share being very modest in this election, at just above five per cent in average, and given the several handicaps that were heaped against TTV Dhinakaran by the ruling establishment ever since he was seen as a ‘prodigal son’ by the powers-that-be, his outfit has nevertheless had what may be termed a soft impact on the results.
In the ongoing leadership churning within the ‘Mukkulathor’ community, substantial sections of whom have been the bedrock of AIADMK’s popular social base in the southern districts since its founder MGR’s days, the OPS faction has shown that it still calls the shots, thanks to his son’s win from Theni and the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi himself addressing a separate poll rally there. “What is this newfound love of Mr. Modi for Mr. OPS,” asked the Congress candidate Mr. Elangovan, who lost out to the AIADMK candidate, on Sunday.
This dynamics is to be traced to the BJP at the Centre preferring Mr. Pannerselvam to ascend the Chief Ministerial ‘gaddi’ soon after Ms. Jayalaithaa’s demise in December 2016, even as her long-time confidante Ms VK Sasikala had much bigger ambitions than her grief at that moment would allow for. Thus Sasikala’s and her kin like TTV Dhinakaran first saw Mr. OPS as the ‘prodigal son’. But subsequent political developments in the last two years in Tamil Nadu tended to deflect that internal power struggle with BJP strategists stepping in as the ‘White Knight’ to make a new move to win over the ‘MGR-Jayalalithaa’ vote-bank.
The political struggle on the one hand for “reclaiming” the legacy of MGR-Jayalalithaa, and the legal battles on the other to wrest claim to the AIADMK organisation and the party symbol ‘two leaves’ , seems far from over after this Lok Sabha and Assembly bypolls. They would continue in their respective theatres, indicating that Mr. Dhinakaran’s “relevance” or otherwise is yet to be decided.
This brings one to a cricketing memory of my school days. As an avid cricketer wanting to get into the school team, we would never miss an early morning practice session at the hands of an astonishing cricket coach, Sri Adi Chetti of Southern Railways, either at the Nungambakkam corporation school grounds or at Somasundaram grounds in T. Nagar. “Move that back foot in line with the off-stump”, Adi Chetti used to constantly shout at us if we at the crease are to effectively take on balls delivered fast, wide and short outside the off-stump.
Adi Chetti’s reasoning was if that batting technique could be reasonably perfected, it would yield a lot of runs, but “if you don’t move that back foot” as he wanted us to, the batsman lands up with all kinds of ‘edgy strokes’ that soon gets us out. Who will pick up this valuable cricketing tip to resolve the AIADMK’s continuing internal imbroglio, whether TTV or OPS-EPS, is anybody’s guess....