Dinakaran ‘Pockets’ R K Nagar: What Next For Tamil Nadu?

Dinakaran ‘Pockets’ R K Nagar: What Next For Tamil Nadu?T T V Dinakaran won the RK Nagar by-elections in Tamil Nadu, taking on the might of AIADMK government headed by Edappadi K Palaniswami. Will his elections destabilise Tamil Nadu politics?
Snapshot
  • As long as the Dravidian parties tend to believe that cash can win them votes, the prospects for national political parties like BJP and Congress in Tamil Nadu are poor.

T T V Dinakaran’s victory in the by-elections to the R K Nagar constituency in Tamil Nadu will now shift the focus to New Delhi, in particular, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The results will also bring under scrutiny the alleged failure of the Election Commission to check the irregularities being indulged in by the Dravidian parties in the elections. Even before R K Nagar constituency went to the hustings, Dinakaran had, as he had been warning, triggered into action his “sleeper cells” or the Trojan horses he had planted in the ruling Edappadi K Palaniswamy’s (EPS) government.

If what you heard with your ears close to the ground was true, then developments in Tamil Nadu politics will be tumultuous. At least five ministers in the EPS government and 30 members of the state Legislature Assembly (MLAs), currently with the ruling party, could switch their loyalty to Dinakaran’s side.

Will EPS Government Last Until Pongal?

The EPS-led All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government’s tenure may not last beyond Pongal or 14 January in view of various developments expected over the next few days. These developments will see the Modi government being dragged into action and, probably, set its somewhat stained record in Tamil Nadu. Besides the switching of loyalties by these ministers and MLAs, a couple of other developments are expected as well. One, the gap between two Assembly sessions cannot be more than six months. In that case, the Tamil Nadu Assembly will have to be convened before 20 January since it last met on 20 July. Can the assembly meet before the constitutionally-stipulated date of 20 January since the Madras High Court has restrained the EPS government from testing its floor strength before it decides on three petitions before it? Hearings are yet to conclude in all three cases.

One of the petitions before the court is the disqualification of 18 MLAs who owed allegiance to Dinakaran. The second petition is one filed by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), asking the court why the State Finance Minister O Panneerselvam (OPS) and 10 other MLAs, who initially voted against EPS on February 18, shouldn’t be disqualified. The third petition is also by the DMK urging the court to order the Speaker not to suspend 21 of its MLAs, including its working president M K Stalin, for breach of privilege of the house. (On 19 July, DMK members displayed packets of Gutkha to show that the ban on the tobacco product had no effect in the state. This led to privilege notice being issued against 21 DMK MLAs and the subsequent petition in the Madras High Court). The view is that since the Assembly cannot be convened before January 20, the Modi government will likely step in to impose President’s rule.

Even otherwise, the Modi government wouldn’t want to be associated with the EPS government that is virtually being seen as one propped by the Centre. The BJP would want to be seen distancing and disassociating itself from the mess that the EPS government has created for itself. It wouldn’t want to take the share of the blame since every opposition leader makes it a point to blame the BJP for the current state of affairs in Tamil Nadu. To add to the BJP’s woes, the EPS government is not seen as one that has a clean image. The Modi government, as a way to wriggle free of its bad image in Tamil Nadu, could cite the corruption charges against some of EPS ministers to dismiss the government. “I don’t see the EPS Government lasting beyond January on any account,” said an AIADMK veteran. The EPS government will only help BJP’s cause by falling on its own.

Ever since Modi visited ailing DMK president M Karunanidhi on 7 November, the message that has gone out to the BJP cadre is to delink itself from the AIADMK and DMK. It is one of the reasons why BJP put up a candidate in the by-elections and, not surprisingly, lost deposit. On the other hand, the BJP has drawn a blank from the Nadar community it banked on to fare well in these by-elections.

Can Dinakaran’s Win Unify AIADMK?

While one section of the AIADMK feels that the party is headed for a bleak future, another section feels that the unfolding scenario has to be watched. The by-election results only provide a short-term relief for Dinakaran, whose objective of contesting the R K Nagar elections was to bring down the EPS government. There are other factors that had come into play during the by-elections. We will come to that later. Can Dinakaran victory unify the AIADMK with EPS and OPS being expelled from the party or sidelined? Can he rejuvenate the party and enjoy popularity cutting across the state? Can he wriggle free of the cases filed for violations of the Foreign Exchange (Regulation) Act? What happens if he also lands in prison for these violations? These questions are reasons why one will have to watch out how the AIADMK shapes up in case of EPS government falling.

There are speculations that EPS and OPS may find their way into the BJP but will the national party accept the two, whose image aren’t clean? On the other hand, the BJP and Modi government cannot be seen vindictive against Dinakaran. Any such misadventure will only put him at an advantage since Dinakaran will gain public sympathy. His win also raises another question: Where is DMK heading after coming a poor third?

A veteran Dravidian leader said he was reminded of Congress under Kamaraj after the late M G Ramachandran launched the AIADMK when he was expelled from the DMK. DMK contacts say that they had decided not to open their purse strings in R K Nagar constituency after the party knew what Dinakaran was planning to win the by-elections by hook or “crook”. But the results also put a question mark on Stalin’s leadership. That the DMK is finishing a poor third is a matter of concern that the party will have to deal with immediately. The results also pose another question: Did the DMK suffer on account of public anger against the CBI court acquitting its leaders from the 2G case? Maybe, since women are not willing to give the DMK any benefit of doubt. (We also heard that many women pledged to vote for Dinakaran since they had accepted Rs 4,000 per vote in April before the by-elections were cancelled.)

20-Rupee Token Strategy

Now, the main factors that had come into play in the R K Nagar by-elections. Frankly, the by-elections are a poor example of how not to hold elections anywhere in the country. Money flowed and flowed until the last vote was sealed in the ballots. “Twenty-rupee tokens strategy worked!” was the general comment when the trends showed that Dinakaran would win the hustings.

The strategy was simple:

Dinakaran’s men allegedly handed over 20-rupee notes to voters in the R K Nagar constituency on the day of polling in many parts of the constituency and asked them to collect Rs 10,000 on 25 December by exchanging the 20-rupee notes.

Media had earlier reported that Dinakaran was willing to pay Rs 1,000 more than what the official AIADMK offered to pay. The strategy begs a question: What is the Election Commission doing? Allegations are that the commission officials in the constituency had compromised. On the other hand, fingers are also being pointed at the local police, which had allegedly shut its eye to what Dinakaran was doing. The general view on the Election Commission is that it had gone through its paces as a matter of routine to conduct the elections as any failure on its part would have reflected badly on its efficiency.

Dinakaran’s win made a veteran DMK leader regret that politics dictated by money-power was stinking. An AIADMK veteran, however, said he was happy since the “arrogant” EPS-OPS duo was being taught a lesson. Whatever the outcome, the ball is now firmly in the central government’s court. Will it impose President’s rule in Tamil Nadu? Or will the assembly be kept in suspended animation, until the Madras High Court rules on the three petitions? If the Centre imposes President’s rule then the Modi government will have to get cracking on corruption in the state. That will be the best way for Modi and the BJP to tell the people of Tamil Nadu that they are serious on corruption and would like to end it.

Jaitley Has Ro Share Part Of The Blame

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was reported to have remarked that Tamil Nadu politicians were behaving as if the state was a banana republic. But his ministry should also take part of the blame for the play of money-power in the R K Nagar by-elections. How did such huge sums get distributed to the public despite the Income Tax department unearthing crores of rupees in April this year? Where did Dinakaran or EPS-headed AIADMK get funds from to distribute to voters? What are the sleuths of Enforcement Directorate doing?

The Modi government, especially the Finance Ministry, must follow up action on the different search operations conducted in the state since December 2016. Action should also be taken against those who were found to have distributed money in April this year in the R K Nagar constituency before the by-polls were cancelled.

The by-elections results also reflect poorly on the people in Tamil Nadu. An opinion survey by Thanthi TV revealed that 70 per cent of those surveyed weren’t averse to accepting cash for votes. The arguments of most was that it is their money (earned by politician through corruption) and what’s wrong in accepting it. That leaves us with the chicken and egg situation: Is corruption prevailing in Tamil Nadu because of voters accepting money from politicians or are politicians demanding money for their service because people take money to vote.

No one has any doubt on what swung the results in Dinakaran’s favour. The sad part is that democracy has been sold for cash. As long as the Dravidian parties tend to believe that cash can win them votes, the prospects for national political parties like BJP and Congress in Tamil Nadu are poor.

The author is Executive Editor, SwarajyaMag. He tweets @mrsubramani

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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