The Dhinakaran rebellion: Decoding the loyalty factor

Sasikala’s nephew is leveraging the base the family had built within the AIADMK over a period of time

Updated - September 04, 2017 07:45 am IST

Published - September 04, 2017 07:42 am IST - Chennai

T.T.V. Dhinakaran

T.T.V. Dhinakaran

The odds are seemingly against T. T. V. Dhinakaran. He is a nephew of V. K. Sasikala, jailed interim general secretary of the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), and the Sasikala clan is apparently at a disadvantage in the battle of public perception. Mr. Dhinakaran himself is facing two cases filed by the Enforcement Directorate for having violated provisions of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act. The Edappadi K. Palaniswami and O. Panneerselvam factions have united against him and give the impression of being numerous. The tweets by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the day of the merger of the two factions and the statements of many BJP leaders in the State seem to lend credence to the perception that the merger and the sidelining of Mr. Dhinakaran and the Sasikala family have the backing of the BJP that is ruling at the Centre.

Yet, the talk today on the corridors of Fort St. George, the seat of power of the State government and the Assembly, is the question mark over the longevity of the government — created by the Dhinakaran rebellion. Mr. Dhinakaran has been able to evoke strong loyalty among more than 20 MLAs — many in the Sasikala family and outside claim his ranks will swell soon — and have 19 of them express their opposition to the Palaniswami government to the Tamil Nadu Governor.

Whether it’s by picking raw hands and putting them in positions of power, creating camaraderie through personal rapport, being generous with cash or just through a syncing of personal interests, Mr. Dhinakaran and the Sasikala family have amassed many IOUs in the AIADMK. Mr. Dhinakaran is cashing in on these IOUs now. Having made clear that their goal is not to dislodge the government but a campaign against Mr. Palaniswami and Mr. Panneerselvam, his camp wants to roll back the sidelining of Mr. Dhinakaran.

First-term MLAs

A key aspect of the Dhinakaran MLAs is that 16 are first time MLAs. For example, K. Kathirkamu, Periyakulam MLA, joined the party a few months before the polls as he was the Dean of the Theni Medical College till the end of 2015. Several party leaders familiar with AIADMK functioning when Jayalalithaa was alive testify that many of the first time MLAs of the 2016 Assembly election owe their ticket to the members of Sasikala’s family.

But, what is more interesting is that some long-standing members of the party such as S.T.K. Jakkaiyan, who was elected to the Lok Sabha during the 1982 by-election to the Periyakulam parliamentary constituency, are backing the rebel leader. Mr. Jakkaiyan, now MLA of Cumbum, is one among three MLAs in the Theni district who are supporting Mr. Dhinakaran. The district has only four legislators, the fourth being Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam.

N.G. Parthiban of Sholinghur is a first-time legislator but hails from a political family that has been associated with the party since inception. His father, C. Gopal, was elected from Sholinghur in 1980.

Mr. Parthiban and Mr. Jakkaiyan, and several other leaders, believe it is Mr. Dhinakaran who can carry the people with him, not Mr. Palaniswami or Mr. Panneerselvam. “The way Mr. Dhinakaran handles the party cadres and party functionaries is amazing. His political manoeuvring is also exceptional,” says Mr. Jakkaiyan.

Describing Mr. Dhinakaran as “the future of the AIADMK,” R. Manoharan, former Government Chief Whip and former MLA from Tiruchi East, says “over 70% of the present MLAs and MPs were actually identified and promoted by Mr.Dhinakaran when he was State secretary of Amma Peravai.”

The well attended Melur meeting seems to have demonstrated Mr. Dhinakaran personal standing, in the eyes of some. “Is it [turnout] not enough?” says R. Thangathurai, another loyalist and Nilakottai MLA, adding that Mr. Dhinakaran is a “mass leader” in the post-Jayalalithaa scenario. Sources in the Dindigul unit of the party say it was with the help of Mr. Dhinakaran that Mr. Thangathurai got the ticket to contest in 2016 despite stiff competition from former MLA S. Thenmozhi, who was supported by former Transport Minister Natham R. Viswanathan.

C. Sivasami, Tiruppur’s former Member of Parliament, recounts how Mr. Dhinakaran called him immediately after the 2002 Andipatti by-election, “where I worked for the victory of Jayalalitha, to know how much I had spent. He had subsequently sent the amount to me.”

Saying that Mr. Dhinakaran has the “leadership qualities and temperament” to keep everyone together, V. Rajendran, former deputy secretary of the Melur unit of the AIADMK, he would not support anyone else of the Mannargudi family for the leadership of the party. An MLA, now in the Puducherry resort, says other members of the Sasikala family will not wield much influence if Mr. Dhinakaran is in-charge.

Mr. Dhinakaran has not only demonstrated his hold in O. Panneerselvam’s home base of Theni, even Salem, the home district of the Chief Minister, is susceptible to Mr. Dhinakaran’s campaign. At present, all the eight MLAs of the district are backing Mr. Palaniswami but a majority of them are “fence sitters,” says a senior leader. They have thrown their weight behind Mr. Palaniswami as they want the present the regime to continue. If there are indications of Mr. Dhinarakan gaining the upper hand, a majority of the MLAs will not hesitate to switch sides. To drive his point home, the senior leader explains that a group of members of the party recently burnt effigies of Mr. Dhinakaran in different parts of the district, but many of the local MLAs did not participate in it.

Driving a wedge

Senior members of the Palaniswami camp, however, say “local equations” have driven many to Mr. Dhinakaran’s side. For instance, P. Palaniappan, former Higher Education Minister, does not get along well with his successor, K. P. Anbalagan, who is also from the Dharmapuri district. Likewise, in Karur district, Senthil Balaji, who won from Aravakurichi last year, has been dislodged from his place of prominence by the present Transport Minister M.R. Vijayabaskar. Besides, it is an open secret that Mr. Senthil Balaji does not enjoy good equations with Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha M. Thambidurai, who represents Karur and is another important leader in the Palaniswami camp.

It is debatable whether voters of constituencies, held by the pro-Dhinakaran legislators, are impressed with the stand of their representatives. In Sholinghur, the “long absence” of Mr. Parthiban and his stand do not seem to have gone well among a cross-section of people.

M. Shanmugam, former chairman of Tirupur District Panchayat who has been with the party for 40 years and till now with the Panneerselvam faction, says Mr. Dhinakaran may be enjoying the support of some loyalists as he would have given them some position. “This does not mean that the entire workforce of the party is behind him.”

(With inputs from L. Srikrishna and Pon Vasanth Arunachalam in Madurai; K. Raju in Cumbum; R. Vimal Kumar in Tiruppur; Syed Muthahar Saqaf in Salem; C. Jaisankar in Tiruchi and M. Serena Josephine in Vellore)

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