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TTV Dhinakaran's X-Factor May Disrupt AIADMK's Chances in Tamil Nadu LS Polls

Dhinakaran has emerged as a contender for the political legacy of AIADMK's former chief J Jayalalithaa and believes that if the party were to fare poorly in the elections, the cadre will shift allegiance to his newly-formed Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam.

Kalyani Shankar | News18.com

Updated:April 17, 2019, 6:09 PM IST
TTV Dhinakaran's X-Factor May Disrupt AIADMK's Chances in Tamil Nadu LS Polls
File photo of TTV Dinakaran. (PTI)

Chennai: A name that has frequently cropped up in conversation with several political parties in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections is that of TTV Dhinakaran, aide and companion of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) supremo J Jayalalithaa and the nephew of party leader Sasikala.

Dhinakaran first became an MP in 1999 and was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 2004 to 2010. He mainly drew his strength from Sasikala and was part of the ‘Mannargudi mafia’, a term used by the press to describe the coterie made up of her immediate relatives that wielded a high influence on the first term of Jayalalithaa as chief minister. Mannargudi is a small town in Tiruvarur district in the Cauvery delta where Sasikala hails from. The ‘Mannargudi mafia’ is alleged to have spread out across government machinery into important positions taking advantage of Sasikala’s proximity to Jayalalithaa.

Jayalalithaa threw out Dhinakaran, Sasikala and 12 other family members in December 2011 for allegedly conspiring against her. In March next year, Jayalalithaa readmitted Sasikala after her public apology. But Poes Garden (Jayalalithaa’s residence in Chennai) remained out of bounds for Dhinakaran. Only after her death was Dhinakaran readmitted into the party-fold, and has since served as Sasikala’s eyes and ears.

Dhinakaran has emerged as the X-factor in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, much to the dismay of the ruling AIADMK which apprehends that his newly-launched Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) might cut into its votes. Dhinakaran has emerged as a contender for the political legacy of Jayalalithaa and believes that if the AIADMK were to fare poorly in the elections, the cadre will shift allegiance to him. “After this election, almost all the AIADMK cadre will be by my side,” he recently told an interviewer. Dhinakaran, perhaps, is depending on the loyalty of many AIADMK workers who had benefitted from Sasikala’s patronage.

Two things have helped Dhinakaran emerge as a key player — the first is his caste and the other is unlimited money power. Dhinakaran belongs to the Thevar community, which wields significant political influence in the southern parts of the state. The two dominant communities of Thevars (Mukkulathors) and Gounders have traditionally backed the AIADMK. Dhinakaran belongs to the Kallar community — a section of the Mukkulathors. Jayalalithaa received the full support of the Thevars, but their vote could now witness a split since Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam belongs to the same community.

Dhinakaran is also blessed with electoral management skills. The ruling party has already split into two factions, one led by Chief Minister Edapaddi K Palaniswamy and the other by Panneerselvam. Dhinakaran is leading a third faction after his expulsion in 2017 when he had tried to capture power in the party and the government. Dhinkaran continues to nurse chief ministerial ambitions and has made serious efforts to topple the current government over the last two years.

The DMK hopes that Dhinakaran may spoil the opponent’s equations and help the coalition win more seats. He is also trying to use the Assembly bye-polls (to be held in 22 constituencies) to ensure that the current government falls since the AIADMK government has a wafer-thin majority in the House.

Historically, the ruling party has always won by-polls in Tamil Nadu but Dhinakaran smashed that rule in the RK Nagar by-poll last year with an impressive entry. This makes him the “man to watch”.

Although Dhinakaran has been often dismissed as inconsequential and an upstart, his role in the by-polls will be important. The two major parties — DMK and AIADMK – have set their sights and concentration on the Assembly by-polls as adverse results for the ruling party will have far-reaching consequences.

In 2016, Jayalalithaa’s party had won 21 of the 22 seats in the 234-member Assembly, which now has an official strength of 213. To continue in power, the ruling AIADMK will need eight more seats while the DMK needs all 22. The ruling party’s current strength is 114, but three of its legislators have expressed support for Dhinakaran. It is not clear if three Independent MLAs, who had contested on AIADMK tickets, will support the party if needed. The DMK (88), Congress (eight) and the Indian Union Muslim League (one) have 97 members.

Dhinakaran does not have a clean slate — he faces several cases, including one for violation of Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA). Last year, he was charged for an attempt to bribe the Election Commission to receive the iconic “two leaves” symbol for his new outfit.

Dhinkaran has obviously pinned his hopes to Amma’s legacy and mentions her in each rally and every public meeting. His party is named after Amma. He also believes that the disheartened AIADMK cadre will favour his AMMK due to their loyalty to “chinnamma” (or Sasikala).

While there is much hype about his role as a spoiler, it remains to be seen to what extent can Dhinakaran succeed in ruining the chances of the ruling party.

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