TTV Dhinakaran is the elephant in the room of Tamil Nadu politics. Nephew of Sasikala, he now heads the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) and was the surprise victor in the Radha Krishna Nagar (RK Nagar) by-elections held in 2017.
He belongs to the Mannargudi clan of Sasikala, with substantial resources and networks spread across the state. Derisively called the ‘Mannargudi Mafia’ the family formed a protective ring around Jayalalitha and controlled access to her. Most of the ills of Jayalalitha regime is now being blamed on them. The extended Mannargudi family threw their weight around in the party and the administration and was immensely unpopular.
So unpopular was the family that it was unthinkable that someone from the Sasikala family could have a political career in the AIADMK or elsewhere, after the death of Jayalalitha.
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But TTV Dhinakaran has shocked one and all. In 2017, he contested from RK Nagar, which had returned Jayalalitha to the assembly earlier. First, he contested as the official AIADMK candidate and when he was sent out by the party, he contested as an independent. He won with a majority of around 40,000 votes pushing DMK to the third slot with them losing 30,000 votes as compared to their earlier tally. What surprised many was that he was able to take away votes from the cadre-driven DMK.
The common sense view then was that with the split in the AIADMK the voter had no choice but to opt for the DMK. The defeat shocked and unnerved the DMK.
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TTV Dhinakaran is chubby, calm, measured and has a friendly demeanour. He appeared quite jocular wearing a Hat; one of his election symbols during the RK Nagar by-election. He plays the common man, has a TV presence and a good communicator. Most of all, he has blunted the anti-Mannargudi sentiment amongst the voters. He is also known for his electioneering, booth and voter management skills.
He is not without controversies. During the RK Nagar elections, there were widespread allegations of the cash-for-votes phenomenon playing a major role in the mandate. Opponents allege that he has rare skills in this department. He is also facing a case of allegedly trying to influence election commission officials to get a favourable decision in an election symbol case.
The question now in Tamil Nadu is not about giving money for votes but about how to give it in an effective manner. It has become a logistics issue and not a moral issue.
TTV Dhinakaran, however, seems to have received some special treatment from Jayalalitha. While she kept the Sasikala clan at arm’s length when it came to formal structures of power and administration (it is a different matter that they ran the show informally) TTV Dhinakaran was given the opportunity to represent the AIADMK once in the Lok Sabha and once in the Rajya Sabha. It’s during this time that he built his network of support and allies across the state, and unlike other family members who threw their weight around excessively, he was supposed to be fairly restrained.
Analysts point out tongue-in-cheek that if not for TTV Dhinakaran waiting in the wings to form a third front, the smaller parties and individuals in Tamil Nadu like the CPI, CPI(M), Ramadoss, Vaiko, Vijayakanth, and Thirumavalavan, would not have been accommodated in the DMK and AIADMK fronts, with a generous share of seats.
TTV Dhinakaran is now friendless and without allies. The 2019 polls a real test to his electioneering and his famed voter management skills.
He has to prove that RK Nagar is a not a one-off case and he is not a one trick pony.