After the battle for RK Nagar, it may well be time for a 2.0 version. If Thanga Tamilselvan withdraws his petition challenging his disqualification from the Madras High court and the Election Commission announces a byelection to his constituency Andipatti, Tamil Nadu will see yet another former Jayalalithaa seat up for grabs. She represented Andipatti in 2002 and 2006. Adding more sheen is the fact that Andipatti has been represented in the Tamil Nadu Assembly by MG Ramachandran as well. In fact, the constituency elected MGR in 1984 when he was hospitalised.
The split verdict in the case relating to the disqualification of 18 MLAs upset Dinakaran's political calculations. If the Speaker's verdict disqualifying his supporters had been quashed, he could have ensured a change in chief minister or even brought down the Edappadi Palaniswami government with the help of the DMK. Even if the order had been upheld, Dinakaran would have fancied his chances in the 18 bypolls. But the disagreement between the two judges meant EPS gained time, till such time that a third judge heard the case all over again.
Which is why it has been decided to keep the pot boiling by forcing at least one by-election. The choice of the constituency is significant because a victory in Andipatti will help the Dinakaran's Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) to lay claim to being the true inheritor to both MGR and Jayalalithaa's legacy. For the record, Tamilselvan maintains that this is because Andipatti constituency has not had an MLA representing it for close to a year and is suffering on that count.
But eyebrows have gone up over why Dinakaran wants to force only one by-election. Why not make the other 17 MLAs withdraw their petitions as well, converting the bypolls into a mini-assembly election? Does it indicate, as AIADMK sources would like one to believe, a rift in the Dinakaran camp? Is there resentment within the AMMK over Dinakaran alone being projected as Jayalalithaa's successor? Is this Tamilselvan's way of showing he can win from this VIP seat, with or without anyone's backing?
Dinakaran has denied any cracks in his team, saying that the 18 legislators won two years ago thanks to Jayalalithaa's campaigning and since he did not campaign for them at that time, he wanted them to take their own individual decisions. But it is surprising why none of the other 17 MLAs have decided to emulate Tamilselvan.
EPS also will be looking at the possibility of the bypoll in Andipatti with keen interest. This constituency, just like neighbouring Bodinayakkanur which is represented by deputy CM O Panneerselvam, is part of the Theni Lok Sabha constituency in southern Tamil Nadu. This means the onus of leading the AIADMK to victory will be on OPS while a defeat in his backyard will dent his clout within the party. It is a heads I win, tails you lose situation for EPS.
Just like it was in RK Nagar. Even though the AIADMK crashed to a humiliating defeat in the Chennai constituency in December 2017, it was seen as Panneerselvam's loss, not EPS. That is because OPS prevailed upon the party's decision-making body to nominate his camp follower Madhusudhanan as the candidate. Dinakaran won from RK Nagar by an impressive margin, greater than what Jayalalithaa managed in 2016.
Even from a caste angle, the Thevar vs Thevar clash between OPS and Dinakaran would work to Palaniswami's advantage. The CM in contrast, has his Gounder community backing him.
Simultaneously, EPS is also extending the olive branch to the dissenters saying “we will appreciate if all those who parted ways from the party, decide to come back”. The CM is aware that many of them will stand a good chance to get re-elected in the event of a bypoll. The intention is also to isolate Dinakaran, by painting him as the villain of the piece, someone Jayalalithaa did not trust.
If the ruling AIADMK is walking the extra mile to shore up its numbers, it is showing. The party mouthpiece ‘Namathu Puratchi Thalaivi Amma' alluded to how the MLAs should return. This was followed by fisheries minister D Jayakumar who is an EPS camp follower. Almost as if the message was intended for Tamilselvan, Jayakumar said that those who accept MGR and Jayalalithaa as their ‘eternal leaders’ ought to do a ghar waapsi.
Knowing how AIADMK politics has played out since Jayalalithaa's demise, nothing including the return of the native can be ruled out. But terms and conditions are bound to apply.
(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)