For the AIADMK that is engaged in a perception battle after the demise of Jayalalithaa, the April 12 by-poll in R K Nagar is going to be a harsh reality check. The current political scenario in Tamil Nadu may seem like a smooth sailing ship for now but the undercurrent of agitated masses and divided cadre pose a threat of dragging the AIADMK down. For the third time in as many years, Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar constituency will go to poll and this time things are slated to be very different.
Why Jayalalithaa chose R K Nagar constituency
After being convicted in a disproportionate assets case, Jayalalithaa managed to get a stay on the conviction and contested the 2015 assembly elections. She shifted from Andipatti constituency to the closer R K Nagar constituency. Apart from the fact that R K Nagar had been an AIADMK bastion since 2001, Jayalalithaa chose to contest from R K Nagar owing to health issues. Her health had taken a beating forcing her to choose a constituency closer home. The then incumbent MLA P Vetrivel resigned to make way for Jayalalithaa to contest the poll.
R K Nagar: AIADMK's bastion since 2001
Out of the 11 polls that have been held in R K Nagar constituency so far, the AIADMK has won seven times. The DMK and the Congress have managed to win the R K Nagar seat twice each but the constituency has been a bastion of the AIADMK since 2001 with P K Sekhar Babu being elected twice, P Vetrivel once and Jayalalithaa twice in two years.
The first time she contested from R K Nagar in 2015, she won with a massive margin of more than 1,50,700 votes. She had proudly proclaimed that she had put her faith in the people and the people had faith in her. Jayalalithaa had managed to strike a peculiar bond with the women voters in R K Nagar constituency even without taking one step on the roads of R K Nagar. She never addressed a public rally, never walked on the roads of R K Nagar to seek votes, never went door to door for campaigning. All she did was sit in an air-conditioned van, hold a microphone and speak to the voters.
In 2016 when she contested for the last time from R K Nagar constituency, the swing was in the negative. Jayalalithaa surely won the seat but the margin stood at a mere 39,545 votes. A far cry from the 2015 margin. Jayalalithaa started her journey in electoral politics in 1989 from Bodinayakkanur constituency striking gold and represented the R K Nagar constituency till her death in 2016. While Jayalalithaa shifted constituencies from Bargur to Kangayam to Andipatti to Srirangam, a win in R K Nagar by-poll in April is the ultimate test for the AIADMK.
What is in store for the R K Nagar by-poll
Jayalalithaa's niece Deepa Jayakumar on Thursday announced that she would contest the R K Nagar by-poll and would accept any support that came her way. Her entry is not something that the DMK or the AIADMK can brush aside. "Deepa is likely to make inroads in the R K Nagar by-poll not because she is capable but simply as a result of people's anger against Sasikala. She will definitely not win the seat but will definitely eat into AIADMK's vote share," feels senior journalist and political commentator Ramasubramani.
Most political observers believe that the anger against Sasikala Natarajan among the people, especially women in R K Nagar constituency may help Deepa score brownie points. The same may not necessarily translate into votes. The DMK is expected to field p[rominent local leader and their earlier candidate Shimla Muthuchozhan. She was a contender against Jayalalithaa. Another name that the DMK may consider is MLA PK Sekhar Babu. Sekhar babu who is currently a DMK MLA was once an AIADMK strongman in the region. He was elected twice from the R K Nagar constituency.
The AIADMK is in a fix for their choice of candidate. While Sasikala Natarajan would push TTV Dinakaran's candidature, a FERA case where he is convicted is likely to create troubles. Going back to Vetrivel who resigned from the post to make way for Jayalalithaa is an option before the AIADMK but that would mean vacating his seat in Perambur.
The BJP hopes to field its state unit chief Tamilisai Soundararajan. The caste card is likely to play to Tamilisai's advantage with the Nadar community's sway in the constituency. Most parties would look to field women candidates in the R K Nagar constituency given the strong base of women voters. According to the voter list released in January 2017, total voters in the constituency are 2,62,721 out of which 1,34,307 are women. The constituency also has 109 third gender voters.
While for other parties it is another by-poll, for the AIADMK, the R K Nagar by-poll is a direct verdict on how people perceive the party after Jayalalithaa.