Beyond his symbol, Dhinakaran is a man to watch

Chennai: Whatever role symbols play in the battle of the ballot, for T T V Dhinakaran, the leader of Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), fighting for a ‘symbol’ has been more than symbolic and become such a regular feature that he has emerged as a man to watch for in the 18 April Lok Sabha elections in Tamilnadu.

That the ruling AIADMK party should engage legal luminaries to argue its case against the allocation of the symbol ‘pressure cooker’ to him in the coming elections is a clear indicator of the ruling party’s fears over Dhinakaran eroding its traditional vote bank. But what is more interesting is Dhinakaran’s fight for a symbol for him and his party that has been enduring, having seen several twists and turns since mid-2017.

His fight for a symbol began after the AIADMK splintered subsequent to the latest incarceration of his aunt V K Sasikala, which followed the death of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa. When Dhinakaran failed in his first challenge, to prove that the AIADMK was with him, he wanted to ensure that his group was recognised as the real AIADMK and, hence, embarked on the maiden fight for symbol – to retain the party’s enduring ‘two leaves.’

When the time at last came for him to symbolically get into the shoes of Jayalalithaa by contesting from the Radhakrishnan Nagar constituency that had sent her to the State Assembly, he had lost the case and the ‘two leaves’ had been handed over to the rival group of AIADMK, led by the twin leaders E Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam.

Taking the loss in his stride, Dhinakaran happily accepted the ‘hat’ symbol that was allotted to him by the Election Commission. He started wearing a hat as he went around the constituency seeking the support of the people, elevating the symbol to a level more than an image on the EVM. His supporters, too, went around sporting a hat. As it looked that the hat was winning hearts all around the constituency, located in Chennai city, the Election Commission struck like a bolt from the blue. The by-election that was scheduled for 12 April 2017, was cancelled or postponed in view of the suspected election malpractices unfolding at R K Nagar.

When the by-election was announced again, Dhinakaran had to fight for the symbol that he had popularised a few months earlier. But it was then that the Election Commission, for whatever reasons, decided not to restore the ‘hat’ on his head and instead handed him over the ‘pressure cooker’ symbol.

What cooked subsequently at R K Nagar could only be explained by those who lived within the constituency though it did raise the pressure of the ruling party mandarins. At the hustings drew to an end, the ‘pressure cooker’ became a popular symbol, pushing the conventional and well-known ‘two leaves’ and the ‘rising sun’ down the pecking order.

With R K Nagar throwing up an unprecedented result – an Independent candidate winning a by-election with a huge margin of over 40,000 votes and the winner himself polling over 80,000 votes – Dhinakaran became a bogeyman for the AIADMK.

The inability to crack the mystery behind the victory of the ‘pressure cooker’ led to the otherwise innocuous symbol assuming a mystique. So, when the time came for the next reckoning, the AIADMK did not want to take chances. It did not want the pressure cooker to be in the hands of Dhinakaran in the Lok Sabha elections, lest it cooks the party’s goose.

But the consummate fighter that he is, Dhinakaran waged the battle valiantly in the Supreme Court and on the last day of the filing of nominations for the elections, he was told that he cannot claim to hold on to the ‘pressure cooker.’

However, Dhinakaran won on another count: The court asked the Election Commission to allot a common symbol for his group, which means that all the candidates of the AMMK contesting the 40 Lok Sabha seats and the 18 State Assembly seats for which by-elections are being held the same day, would have one symbol.

Whatever that symbol be, given his track record, Dhinakaran would popularise it all over Tamilnadu. And therein rests the catch: It could affect the prospects of the AIADMK-led alliance. One may wonder how much of the AIADMK votes would Dhinakaran wean away. The answer is that it could be substantial, as it is evident from the inherent fears of the AIADMK government, which postponed the civic body elections in the State for no real reason.

G Babu Jayakumar