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RK Nagar Bypoll: The Seat That Has Captured The Nation's Imagination

While RK Nagar is just one of 234 constituencies in the state of Tamil Nadu, it has piqued the country’s interest.

Poornima Murali | CNN-News18

Updated:December 19, 2017, 11:41 PM IST
RK Nagar Bypoll: The Seat That Has Captured The Nation's Imagination
Image for representation.
Chennai: The campaigning for the RK Nagar constituency by-election in Tamil Nadu came to an end on Tuesday, the voting will take place on December 21.

While RK Nagar is just one of 234 constituencies in the state of Tamil Nadu, it has piqued the country’s interest.

The reason for this is because the bypoll has turned into a prestige battle of sorts and whoever wins it will decide what shape the political landscape of the state takes.

In 2015, the sitting MLA resigned to make way for former chief minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalithaa to contest from the seat after she was acquitted in a disproportionate assets case. She won the bypoll and in 2016, she contested from the same constituency for the Assembly elections.

However, Jayalalithaa died in December 2016 and the seat fell vacant. What followed was political drama and the state saw pitched battles between rival factions of AIADMK.

It started with VK Sasikala being elevated as the interim general secretary of AIADMK, clearing the decks for her to become chief minister of the state. The interim chief minister, O Panneerselvam, threw the spanner in the works by rebelling against Sasikala and her family. Trouble mounted for Sasikala after she was convicted in the disproportionate assets case in which she was co-accused with Jayalalithaa.

Just before she went to prison in Bengaluru, she made Edappadi K Palaniswami Chief Minister and made her nephew, TTV Dinakaran, the deputy general secretary of AIADMK. So, it became a fight between O Panneerselvam and the EPS- Dinakaran combine.

When the Election Commission announced that RK Nagar bypoll in April, things came to a head. The bypoll was seen as a referendum for a Jayalalithaa-less AIADMK government and winning it became a question of prestige and legacy. Both warring factions of the party laid claim to AIADMK’s name and its two leaves electoral symbol. However, the EC refused both. The bypoll then turned into a three-way contest between the two factions and the DMK.

The bypoll was, however, postponed by the EC after large amounts of cash meant for bribing voters was seized, throwing the veracity of the result in question. In the meantime, things got complicated for the Sasikala faction in April when Dinakaran was arrested and jailed for allegedly trying to bribe an EC official for the two leaves symbol.

The situation forced OPS and EPS to come to the negotiating table with the future of the AIADMK at stake. The ruling faction gave in to the OPS faction’s demand to sideline Dinakaran and they merged, getting the name and two leaves symbol back in the process.

The drama did not end there. Dinakaran then raised the standard of rebellion and formed a new faction. Meanwhile, Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa Jayakumar is also trying claim her legacy and announced she will contest the seat. Actor Vishal also announced that he would contest. The move assumes significance considering the long history of film personalities and electoral politics in Tamil Nadu.

There was last-minute controversy as well when Vishal’s nomination papers were first rejected, then accepted, before being finally rejected again. Even Jayakumar’s papers were rejected. All this has ensured that the bypoll generated interest and curiosity nationally.

Talking about why there is so much interest around the bypoll, RK Radhakrishnan, Associate Editor, Frontline, said: "The first reason was that there was some awareness about the constituency. Jayalalithaa made an MLA resign after she was acquitted in the DA case. After her death, when the EC could not hold the election because huge amounts of cash to the tune of Rs 90 crores were seized from the constituency, it shocked the country.”

“EC took unprecedented steps to try and make sure that election is held in a free and fair manner, bringing in unprecedented numbers of general forces and officers of central deputation. Even more bizarre this time was when actor Vishal, who is also popular, came into the fray…in the manner in which his nomination was rejected is again a historic low in the conduct of Indian elections. It proved that only established parties can contest elections,” he added.

“The interest is also because election was held within the stipulated time after a serving MLA passed away. The nature, the manner in which the Election Commission went about doing its job, parties distributing cash… all these ended up garnering attention," Radhakrishnan said.

As famous as it can get, RK Nagar will go to polls on December 21. All eyes on December 24 to know who will win this time.​
| Edited by: Ashish Yechury
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