A matter of prestige for the DMK

The party seems to have an edge in the byelection to Erode (East)

Updated - January 31, 2023 03:25 pm IST

Published - January 31, 2023 12:15 am IST

File photo of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin

File photo of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

Traditionally, the results of byelections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly are no shockers. As of now, there is no indication that the elections to the Erode (East) Assembly constituency, which goes to the polls on February 27, will be an exception to this norm. Given the absence of a common Opposition candidate and the churning within the AIADMK, which is the principal Opposition party, the ruling DMK-led alliance’s candidate and former Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) chief E.V.K.S. Elangovan appears to have an edge over the rest.

The two traditional rivals, the DMK and the AIADMK (which has not yet announced its nominee), began preparing for the polls immediately after the death of the legislator, Thirumahan Everaa, the former TNCC chief’s eldest son, early this month. As far as the ruling party and Chief Minister M.K. Stalin are concerned, this Assembly bypoll, the first since the DMK reclaimed power in May 2021, seems to be a matter of prestige.

That the party thinks this can be gauged from the fact that it convinced Mr. Elangovan, who did not want to enter the fray and had appealed to the high command to consider nominating his son Sanjay Sampath instead, to change his decision. Mr. Elangovan is the grand nephew of the Dravidar Kazhagam’s founder, E.V. Ramasamy. The Congress’s plan is to cash in on public sympathy for the family of the deceased legislator, and so it selected Mr. Elangovan, who is known as an outspoken leader.

The DMK has shown its seriousness also by selecting Housing Minister and a veteran of Erode district, S. Muthusamy, as the pointsman for byelection work. Mr. Muthusamy was part of the AIADMK before he joined the DMK in 2010. He was elected to the Assembly four times from the district — thrice from the earlier undivided constituency of Erode (in 1977, 1980 and 1984) and once from Bhavani (1991). In the current House, he represents Erode (West).

The story of the AIADMK is not similar to that of the ruling party. Apart from convincing the Tamil Maanila Congress (Moopanar) to concede the seat to it, the principal Opposition party has not made much headway. It is yet to announce its nominee, even though the names of former MLAs K.S. Thennarasu and K. V. Ramalingam are in circulation.

Whether it will get the popular ‘two leaves’ symbol is uncertain, though the Election Commission of India has not frozen the use of the party’s name and symbol. After the political tussle between the interim general secretary Edappadi K. Palaniswami and deposed coordinator O. Panneerselvam over the control of the organisation peaked in June last year, the possibility of the symbol getting frozen became a talking point in political circles.

Both sides are awaiting the Supreme Court’s rulings on their petitions. Mr. Panneerselvam has questioned the validity of the July 11 general council meeting of the party, in which resolutions were passed for his expulsion from primary membership of the AIADMK, the posts of coordinator and co-coordinator were abolished, and his bête noire was elected the interim general secretary. Mr. Palaniswami has complained to the court that the Election Commission refused to accept his signature as AIADMK’s interim general secretary.

The BJP, an ally of the AIADMK for most of the last four years, is yet to spell out its position in favour of or against the two leaders. The party has also not stated categorically that it will desist from fielding its candidate, despite Mr. Panneerselvam’s offer of support to it. In case the BJP does not contest the election, Mr. Panneerselvam will field a candidate of his choice.

Notwithstanding all the confusion, Mr. Palaniswami and his colleagues seem to be determined to put up their nominee. They sent a delegation to meet many of their allies. Former School Education Minister and another veteran of Erode, K.A. Sengottaiyan, has been made the chief of the byelection team of the party. He has been recalling how the AIADMK (Jayalalithaa faction), without the two leaves symbol in the 1989 Assembly polls, won seven out of 11 seats in the then Periyar district and lost two other seats narrowly.

Besides, smaller parties such as the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam, the Naam Tamilar Katchi and the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam have announced their candidates. All this will make the electoral battle much more intense than what it would have been otherwise.

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