Tamil Nadu

Tamilselvan splits with Dhinakaran, rejects EPS courtship, joins Stalin

Thanga Tamilselvan’s move from the AMMK of TTV Dhinakaran to the DMK says the story of Tamil Nadu politics. This propaganda secretary of the party that TTV Dhinakaran floated, fell out with his leader and decided to do a ghar waapsi to the AIADMK. But when the joining letter took its own sweet time to arrive, he joined MK Stalin’s party on finding that the offer and the prospects of the DMK were better.

First a background to this exit saga. Tamilselvan was Dhinakaran’s candidate against O Panneerselvam’s son OP Raveendranath in Theni Lok Sabha constituency. This turned out to be the only seat the NDA won in Tamilnadu.

But the angst was more to do with the results in the 22 assembly seats that faced bypolls. Of these, 18 were caused due to the disqualification of AIADMK legislators who sided with Dhinakaran and revolted against Edappadi Palaniswami and OPS. In the byelections that took place in April-May 2019, the AMMK failed to win even a single seat even though the 18 MLAs were renominated. The DMK made inroads into these AIADMK bastions, winning 13 of the seats while the AIADMK won nine. The suspicion is that many of the 18 MLAs feel that they burnt their fingers siding with Dhinakaran and lost their status as lawmakers.

Tamilselvan, considered close to Dhinakaran, was the first to raise the banner of revolt. An audio clip, apparently containing the voice of Tamilselvan, went viral in which he is heard speaking uncharitably of Dhinakaran. He subsequently questioned Dhinakaran’s leadership qualities and said only terrorist outfits use terms like “sleeper cells” (a term often used by the AMMK chief). He blamed him for his inability to get the two leaves symbol for the AMMK and for not being able to lead the party to victory in the bypolls. 

Tamilselvan’s first desire was to get back to the party he had quit since he had AIADMK DNA in him. He also was linked with the party history as his former constituency of Andipatti had been represented both by MGR and Jayalalithaa in the past. EPS was reportedly keen, not because of any love for Tamilselvan but because his entry would neutralise Panneerselvam’s influence in Theni district. 

But OPS put his foot down. Theni witnessed a very ugly battle between Tamilselvan and Raveendranath and OPS saw through Palaniswami’s plan to cut him to size in his backyard. This even as other ministers like D Jayakumar openly invited Tamilselvan back to his parent party.

 But simultaneously, Aravakurichi MLA Senthil Balaji who had defected from AMMK to DMK, tried to convince Tamilselvan to join the DMK instead. The latter succeeded in his mission with Tamilselvan deciding against being used as a pawn in the OPS vs EPS battle in Theni. 

Why did I say this move reflects the story of Tamil Nadu politics? Because ideology has taken a backseat. With no prospect of the AIADMK government falling so soon, leaders have started positioning themselves in camps which will have the best chance in 2021. Tamilselvan whose entire life’s politics has been anti-DMK in nature, today finds nothing wrong in joining Stalin. 

Will it strengthen the DMK in the southern districts? Yes, to an extent as Tamilselvan is an aggressive political activist. But a lot will also depend on how well he and his followers can adjust to the DMK’s work culture. There is also bound to be resentment at this lateral entry within the DMK and Stalin will need to address that. Tamilselvan having worked as AMMK’s deputy general secretary and propaganda secretary will expect a fancy designation in the DMK as well. 

The episode also shows OPS still retains clout within the party. That he managed to thwart Tamilselvan’s entry shows EPS cannot ride roughshod when Panneerselvan decides to show that his shy exterior with a beatific smile is only a facade.

It is Dhinakaran who will find the going tough. For long, he has been the media’s darling thanks to his accessible nature and ability to take googlies on his chin. He has another two years to prove he is no spent force. But for that he will need to ensure there are no more desertions. The election verdict has led many to suspect RK Nagar win was a flash in the pan and that minus the hype and the two leaves symbol, he cannot win rural Tamil Nadu. 

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