Dhinakaran wins another battle. What makes him tick?

TTV Dhinakran Photo: PTI

The legal drama that unfolded at the Supreme Court on March 26 was yet another of the many see-saw battles that TTV Dhinakaran has faced in recent years, and won. His party, the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) has not registered with the Election Commission since it would have meant acknowledging that it was not the real AIADMK and kept fighting a legal battle to attain that status. And the commission refused to allot the pressure cooker symbol it had requested to its candidates. Eventually, the Supreme Court ordered the commission to order a common symbol to all AMMK candidates in the Lok Sabha election and the bypolls.

The attempt to deny the cooker symbol to TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK, a breakaway group of the AIADMK, could well boomerang on the ruling AIADMK and provide sympathy votes to the Dhinakaran group on a platter. The AMMK’s 18 MLAs were disqualified while 11 MLAs who were MLA supporters of deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam have not been disqualified.

The announcement of the RK Nagar by-election a day after the allotment of the Two Leaves symbol to the EPS-OPS group of the ruling AIADMK, the raids carried out against those associated with the Sasikala family in the run-up to the RK Nagar election, and the denial of Hat symbol originally allotted to Dhinakaran in the RK Nagar bypoll, the ‘punitive’ action against members of this group at the instance of the IT, ED and other central government agencies – all these factors enabled Dhinakaran to play the victim card and earn the sympathy of voters in RK Nagar.  It should be remembered that Dhinakaran was initially appointed deputy general secretary of the party and this was not challenged at that time. Subsequently, the AIADMK had also nominated Dhinakaran as its candidate for the RK Nagar bypoll, and the CM and other ministers campaigned for him in the constituency. The bypoll was first countermanded, and Dhinakaran, contesting as an independent, later won the byelection, defeating the AIADMK and the DMK.

TTV’s mojo

What makes Dhinakaran tick, is the question uppermost in the minds of the Tamil Nadu voters.

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The AIADMK, though officially run by Jayalalithaa from 1989, was managed by her aide Sasikala and the latter’s family members for over two decades. With no family member by her side, Jayalalithaa considered Sasi as her sister and depended on Sasi’s relatives across the state to implement her decisions.

As the trial court in the disproportionate assets case against Jayalalithaa had recorded in its verdict, all the investments made in the companies launched by Jayalaithaa or Sasikala at her behest, were made by the late chief minister herself, using her own cheques. It was clear, the trial court said, that Sasikala and her family members were benamis of Jayalalithaa and that they were merely implementing her decisions.

Sasikala and her deceased husband were said to be instrumental in forging many of the alliances which brought crisis-ridden AIADMK back to power. For instance, the merger of the Janaki group with the AIADMK (J) faction which brought Jayalalithaa the two leaves symbol, and the ties with the PMK, MDMK etc in 1998, enabling her comeback. Also, the alliances with the PMK and MDMK in 1998, and with the TMC in 2001.

Sasikala was also the key factor in finalising the party’s candidates list for various elections. It was an open secret that it was Sasikala who interviewed the aspirants, prepared short lists, and got Jayalalithaa’s consent to her list. Similarly, all appointments in the party, right from major posts to minor ones, were made by Sasikala, with the approval of Jayalalithaa. Thus, over years, Sasikala was the real power centre of the party since no party person could personally meet Jayalalithaa and convey grievances or seek favours.

Jayalalithaa’s statements, from time to time, showed that none should question Sasikala’s decisions, and that all action taken by the latter were at her bidding, increased Sasi’s hold over the party. With almost all the party MLAs, district secretaries and lower level functionaries being virtually appointed by Sasi, she gained absolute control over the party. All party functionaries were indebted to Sasi for their rise and their fortunes.

Even government officials were asked by Jayalalithaa to take Sasi’s instructions. At the Poes Garden residence itself, Jayalalithaa would rarely meet even senior officials. It was Sasi who used to convey Jayalalithaa’s decisions even to the chief secretary, DGP or home secretary. Anyone who tried to cross-check with Jayalalithaa whether she had indeed authorised Sasi to convey such decisions, were unceremoniously shunted out.

Sasi was not just an Extra Constitutional Authority (ECA) — she was seen in the party and even in the government as the Constitutional Authority.

It was natural that over the course of time, Sasi developed a personal bond with party functionaries, ministers and MLAs, as she could convey decisions of the party and government, since it was almost impossible to meet Jayalalithaa. Sasi kept the party going at all levels, including supervision of election work, routing of funds to candidates, and finalising Jayalalithaa’s election meetings and campaigns.

Sasikala’s nephew, Dhinakaran, too, at one time, was her blue-eyed boy, as he had a knack of getting things implemented the way she wanted. The tricks of booth-level management in an election that he learned and perfected during Jayalalithaa’s tenure, were unleashed by him in the RK Nagar by-poll, establishing his prowess in electioneering despite facing the might of two governments, the state government and the Centre, both of which went all out to crush him.

It is this factor that other parties fear the most. The AMMK is considered a dark horse in these elections, and could again spring a surprise or two, confounding the political pundits. It also explains why Dhinakaran seems to remain unfazed, ducking what is thrown at him, and be resourceful enough to fight to the end. He knows the game and what it takes to win.

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