In one of those sultry mornings, my history teacher, introduced the word ‘democracy’ to us. In her inimitable style she went on to explain its origins in Greek and added ‘Demo’ means people and ‘kratia’ means power and summed it up as ‘people’s power’. Three decades hence the RK Nagar elections results have indeed given us impetus to look at democracy differently.
I don’t remember in my recent memory, if there was a bye-election that got national prominence as much as the RK Nagar elections. Every national channel was telecasting the vote counts live after every round underlining the importance of the poll.
The results were a tad unexpected especially the victory margin, if not the victory itself. The rebel independent candidate TTV Dinakaran polled more than 50% of the votes defeating the ‘official’ AIADMK candidate and the opposition DMK candidate.
Allegations came thick and fast with every losing party crying foul over the impact of ‘cash for votes’ as the sole reason for their losses.
While ‘cash for votes’ cannot be discounted, I feel there were other factors at play which didn’t receive as much attention. Cash for votes became a convenient reason for those who lost as it certainly gave the victor a sense of illegitimacy.
The extent of turnout (close to 80%) and victory margin certainly indicates that there was a certain ‘wave’ which influenced the voting patterns and had something to do with the results beyond the distribution of cash.
A wave often has underlying factors influencing them. Typically, in Tamilnadu anti-incumbency does have an influence in the election results. This is evident from the fact that the state witnessed alternate governments in the recent times. Everyone believed there was widespread discontent with the ruling regime and that would certainly influence the election results.
While it can’t be ignored that the constituency was an AIADMK stronghold, if not a fortress as the media dubbed it, the anti-incumbency, split within AIADMK and opposition consolidation under DMK should have make it an easy victory for DMK.
Only the results proved otherwise. This essentially means that the anti-incumbency wasn’t the factor that decided the poll results. This is evident from the fact that both the AIADMK factions fared better than DMK. Therefore, the campaign narrative that yielded results was something else.
In my opinion it was the anti-BJP sentiment. If you look at the series of events that led to this election, right from the AIADMK supremo’s untimely death last year, there was a wide spread perception about BJP meddling in the affairs of Tamilnadu as a back-room player.
Right from Sasikala ending in Jail, split within ADMK, the NEET verdict, Jallikattu unrest, AIDMK reunion, allegations against Dinakaran, the popular perception was that BJP had a hand in everything. High decibel media coverage and panel discussions further seemed to endorse this belief though there was no evidence on ground to support this perception.
This perception gained strength with pretty much all the current woes including the issues with governance were attributed to BJP trying to get a foothold in Tamilnadu. And if there was sense of angst against the non-performance of current ruling dispensation this anti-BJP sentiment subdued it and stood out as the dominant political capital waiting to be harnessed.
If the anti-BJP sentiment was the currency, it is important to look who stands to garner maximum mileage by harping it.
Ideally the opposition DMK should, given that they are the principal opposition and congress ally. However, as it eventually emerged TTV Dinakaran stood a great chance of gaining mileage as he claimed ‘victimhood’ from BJP. The recent events in terms of accusation of bribing election commission, jail terms for him and sasikala, CBI enquires, enforcement directorate raids across 180 locations fed in to this narrative further lending credence to his claims.
DMK on the other hand while criticizing central government wasn’t victim of any such action in the recent past, with even the PM visiting the patriarch at his home. So DMK stood less chance of capitalising the anti-BJP sentiment.
The other question mark that arises is the credibility of the individual. Dinakaran and the mannargudi family along with sasikala were persona non-grata till recently with public opinion against them. The results further show that public conscience is fickle and their memory short term.
Dinakaran with his constant presence in the media presented an affable persona quite in contrast with the perceptions around the family. His genial manner, easy approach to answering difficult questions has certainly paid dividends. To that extent he managed to shed the family baggage and cast himself a fresh alternative. While it is too early, but it looks like he had put himself at a vantage point as a capable leader, potentially emerging out of shadows of Amma’s legacy creating a unique identity for himself distinct from OPS or EPS.