Voters of Jayalalithaa’s R.K. Nagar constituency will miss a familiar figure on the EVM when they vote during a bypoll on April 12 to fill the vacancy caused by her death. The “Two Leaves” symbol, so ingrained in public mind, will be conspicuous by its absence after the Election Commission froze it after a split in the party.
With both the Sasikala and the O.Panneerselvam camps claiming the symbol for the bypoll, the EC barred both of them from using the symbol or the AIADMK name for the April 12 election. Recognizing the split the EC declared in its order,” “Both the groups shall be known by such names as they may choose for their respective groups, showing, if they so desire, linkage with their parent party ... and both the groups shall also be allotted different symbols as they may choose from the list of free symbols notified by the Election Commission for the purpose of the byelection.”
The EC decision represents a huge setback to TTV Dinakaran, Sasikala’s nephew and the deputy general secretary, who has thrown his hat into the electoral ring, to get elected as MLA and make a more legitimate claim to the Chief Minister’s chair later. Already faced with an anti-Sasikala mood he was hoping to ride the familiarity and the popularity of the symbol, which has an emotional connect with the voters having been introduced by AIADMK founder MGR way back in 1972 for a bypoll to the Dindigul Lok Sabha seat, which had marked the beginning of the party’s victory roll.
Now Dinakaran not only has to reinvent his campaign but also has very little time to popularise the new name of his faction and its new symbol in less than 20 days. The same applies to the OPS faction, which has fielded veteran E. Madhusoodhanan, who was the presidium chairman in the united AIADMK and also a former MLA from the seat in 1991 and served as Handlooms Minister in Jayalalithaa’s first cabinet.
The symbol freeze would leave a level playing field for the OPS faction as it would not have to overcome the preference for the Two Leaves symbol in the minds of the AIADMK voters. “Since both of us will have new symbols it will be easier for us to poll more votes than the Sasikala faction since our faction is not hobbled by the negativity that Dinakaran suffers from. The absence of Two Leaves and the split may ultimately benefit the DMK but our intention is to poll more votes than the Sasikala faction and emerge as the real AIADMK and the true inheritors of Amma’s legacy,” said a senior MLA of the OPS faction.
The DMK is thrilled by the development and in anticipation has fielded N. Marudhuganesh, a greenhorn banking on the split. Even as the two AIADMK factions were squabbling and rushing to finalise their respective symbols on the last day of the nomination, Marudhuganesh had already gone around the constituency on a warm up tour. History favours the DMK as the last time the AIADMK split and its Two Leaves symbol got frozen in 1988, the DMK had romped home to a comfortable win in the 1989 Assembly elections. When the AIADMK managed to reunite and got back the symbol for two byelections that soon followed, the DMK was defeated underlining the electoral efficacy of the Two Leaves.
“Even when Jayalalithaa and the Two Leaves were around the DMK has won many elections. Even the 2016 Assembly election was a close fight with hardly five lakh votes separating the two parties. True, the absence of the symbol would help us but its presence was not an insurmountable hurdle. The present mood against the state government and its failure to address basic issues, especially a grave water shortage, has already swung the byelection in our favour. The split in the AIADMK and the freezing of its symbol would add heft to our victory,” explained DMK MLA Sekar Babu.
That the OPS faction has managed to successfully paint a picture of a split in the party and deny the symbol advantage to opposing camp by weaning away a mere 12 out of the 134 MLAs and 12 of the 49 MPs itself is a psychological victory for the group. An electoral setback for Dinakaran would further boost the confidence of the OPS faction. “Our aim was not to get Two Leaves frozen, but only to deprive the Sasikala group from gaining any advantage by using that symbol. That short term goal has been achieved. The long term goal is to get the symbol allotted to us and be recognized as the real AIADMK,” said former Minister K. Pandiarajan and a chief strategist of the OPS group.
If Dinakaran does not win and also finishes behind Madhusoodhanan, the hold of the Sasikala family on the party and the Edappadi K.Palaniswami government could weaken as many of its MLAs would start questioning their legitimacy to lead the party. The clamour for the reunification of the party to reclaim the Two Leaves symbol may gain ground. “Of course an acceptable formula has to be worked out between OPS and EPS but unless the party gets reunited it would be difficult to take on the DMK and continue Amma’s rich political legacy,” argued former Chennai Mayor Saidai S. Duraisamy, who has been trying to get both factions to come together.
Sasikala’s elevation as General Secretary has already been challenged by the OPS faction pointing out that her appointment as “interim” General Secretary has not been provided for in the party’s constitution. If the EC rules against her on this petition too it could virtually be doomsday for Sasikala and her relatives.
“At least it would give a chance for the AIADMK to free itself from the clutches of the Sasikala family but whether it can be done without sacrificing the Edpapadi government is the big question. No AIADMK MLA wants a mid-term election and this applies even to those in the OPS faction. But the symbol freeze has heavily undermined the legitimacy of the Sasikala family’s control of the AIADMK,” pointed out Thuglak Editor S. Gurumurthy.