The battle lines have been drawn for the by polls slated to be held on the 12th of April for the R K Nagar constituency in Chennai. The by-poll is the result of the untimely demise of the then TN Chief Minister and ADMK leader J Jayalalitha.
In the polls held in 2016, in which the ADMK rode to power, the winning Jayalalitha had polled 97218 votes. DMK’s Simla Muthucholan, the runner up candidate polled 57673 votes. Noteworthy in these numbers is the fact that, despite losing, the DMK had indeed put up a good fight in the 2016 polls – looked in the backdrop of the fact that in the ealier poll in 2015 (bypolls) J Jayalalitha had polled a much higher number, 160432 votes, with the runner up C Mahendran of the CPI just polling 9710 votes.
The DMK may not have it easy this time around, given that judging the popular sentiment is a bit of a hazy and nebulous task. This is only compounded by the fact that the ADMK is split vertically between Sasikala and the former Chief Minister and J’s trusted lieutenant, O Panneerselvam. Those faction candidates, Dinakaran and Madhusudhanan besides, also in the fray is Deepa Jayakumar, who is perceived to have some amount of popular support, owing to her lineage.
Whether the two factions of the ADMK claiming to truly inherit the legacy of Jayalalitha will just split the ADMK votes, or will they also eat into the votes of other parties, including the DMK is a bit of a tough guess – given that even the former CM O Paneerselvam is supposed to have earnt considerable goodwill in his recent tenure. Madhusudhanan, his faction’s candidate is a local to the R K Nagar area, and is said to be fairly popular in the area.
With all this, the stakes are the highest in these polls for the DMK scion M K Stalin – this is probably the first poll which sees the complete absence of the ailing strongman of DMK, M Karunanidhi and the first test for Stalin after he assumed de facto leadership of the party.
Under Jayalalitha, many traditional bastions of Chennai fell away from the DMK in the recent few years, and the DMK could crawl back in some of them owing to the anti-incumbency factor, more than anything else. Even the additional votes polled by the DMK candidate Simla Muthuchozhan can be attributed to this, more than the real support for the party or M K Stalin itself.
In this background, the performance of the DMK in the upcoming R K Nagar by-poll is a real test for the leadership of M K Stalin more than anyone else in the political landscape. Win or lose, a setback in the votes polled in 2016, could well mean a question mark on how Stalin plans the future of his party, the DMK.
(With inputs from Team Newswiire)