A day ahead of the R K Nagar bypoll, the Election Commission on Wednesday stepped in and prevented the telecast of a video, released by an MLA of the AIADMK’s T T V Dinakaran faction, purportedly showing late chief minister J Jayalalithaa in a hospital here.
The 20-second video, distributed to the media by disqualified AIADMK MLA P Vetrivel, a trusted aide of V K Sasikala and a backer of her nephew Dinakaran, purportedly shows Jayalalithaa on a bed listening to an old Tamil melody number. Vetrivel said the video was shot by Sasikala when the former chief minister was undergoing treatment at the Apollo Hospital in Chennai, between September and December 2016.
R K Nagar, Jayalalithaa’s constituency, votes on December 21, with DMK’s N Maruthuganesh, AIADMK’s official candidate E Madhusudhanan and the rebel Dinakaran, contesting on the pressure cooker symbol after having lost the party’s official two-leaves symbol, in the fray.
Vetrivel, who surprised the media in the morning, said he shared the footage to counter the allegations of AIADMK’s ruling faction that Sasikala was allegedly behind Jayalalithaa’s death. He appeared to suggest that he had acted on his own. “Even if Dinakaran didn’t want me to release this, I had no other option but to put it out now,” Vetrivel said.
Within two hours of its release, however, around 1 pm, the returning officer of the R K Nagar constituency issued a letter, directing all media organisations to stop telecast of the footage on the grounds that it violated “Section 126 (1) (b) of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951, which prohibits the display of any ‘election matter,’ inter-alia, on TV, during the period of 48 hours fixed for conclusion of poll”. The EC did not budge even after representatives of journalists’ unions met Chief Election Officer (CEO) Rajesh Lakhoni and demanded the withdrawal of the notice.
Top sources in the Sasikala faction said the video was released in the wake of a “malicious campaign” against the family of Sasikala, a one-time aide of Jayalalithaa, which, the sources alleged, had intensified since campaigning ended on Tuesday, December 19. “As Dinakaran is leading in the campaign and their official candidate is lagging behind even the DMK, the AIADMK distributed pamphlets in the R K Nagar area on Tuesday evening suggesting Sasikala was the reason for Jayalalithaa’s ill health and death. On Wednesday morning, there were posters all around the area ridiculing Dinakaran and the Sasikala family. Releasing this video was the only way to counter that and regain the trust of the people,” said a senior leader close to Dinakaran. “But Vetrivel released it without Dinakaran’s consent. It was Sasikala who shared this video with Vetrivel, not Dinakaran,” the senior leader said.
By evening though, there appeared to be signs of a rift within the rebel faction, with J Krishnapriya, Sasikala’s niece, holding a press meet and questioning the decision to release the video. She said it violated the dignity of Jayalalithaa and Sasikala. “Even when there were campaigns accusing Sasikala of being behind Jayalalithaa’s death, my aunt did not release this video to defend herself. Sasikala never wanted to do anything that hurt the self-respect of Jayalalithaa. We gave this video to Vetrivel to submit before the court of inquiry on Jayalalithaa’s death. If it was meant for public display, Sasikala could have released it a long time ago to prove her innocence and counter all those cruel allegations,” Krishnapriya said.
She also criticised Dinakaran. “I do not know why Dinakaran handed over this video to Vetrivel. Vetrivel has violated our trust. Who is he to release the video? Dinakaran should take action against Vetrivel for doing this,” she said.
But Jeyanandh Dhivakaran, son of Sasikala’s brother Dhivakaran, backed Vetrivel. “He was forced to release the video after there were malicious campaigns alleging Jayalalithaa was killed,” he said.
The ruling faction of the AIADMK, meanwhile, accused Dinakaran of attempting to gain political mileage through the private video. “They are using Jayalalithaa’s private video for their political gains,” said K P Munuswamy, a senior leader close to former CM O Panneerselvam.