How to lose friends and alienate people: The TTV Dhinakaran story

The 55-year-old Dhinakaran, nephew of Jaya’s aide and confidante VK Sasikala, was elected to the Lok Sabha from Periyakulam in 1999, and was sent to the Rajya Sabha in 2004.

Published: 24th November 2019 06:06 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th November 2019 02:56 PM   |  A+A-

Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) General Secretary T.T.V. Dhinakaran. (Photo | EPS)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: The death of late chief minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa in 2016 led to a major churning in the politics of Tamil Nadu. A situation as colourful and surreal as what is now happening in Maharashtra unfolded in early 2017.

While the AIADMK seemed on its way to stability, one man was seen as having the potential to tug the rug from right under its leaders' feet: TTV Dhinakaran. He cemented this perception in December 2017 by winning the RK Nagar Assembly bypoll in a landslide, a victory of huge symbolic significance as the constituency had been Jaya's.

Two years later, however, Dhinakaran finds his Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) vastly diminished and the AIADMK and its leader Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami too stable to dislodge. What went wrong? 

Leading a rebellion
The 55-year-old Dhinakaran, nephew of Jaya's aide and confidante VK Sasikala, was not an outsider to politics. He was elected to the Lok Sabha from Periyakulam in 1999, and was sent to the Rajya Sabha in 2004. Sasikala installed him as party deputy general secretary in 2017 before going to prison but when the O Panneerselvam and Palaniswami factions united, she and Dhinakaran were expelled. As a rebel MLA, commanding the loyalties of at least 18 MLAs who faced disqualification from the House for him, Dhinakaran gained much popularity.

As one former AMMK functionary, now away from active politics, put it: "Lakhs of AIADMK cadres followed him because our leader Sasikala identified him as her political successor." Further, as a member of the powerful Thevar community that has traditionally backed the AIADMK, the AMMK was expected to affect the ruling party's electoral performance in the southern parts of the State where a large proportion of the community resides.

'Failing' the poll test
Candidates of the AMMK, which did not have its own electoral symbol, contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and bypolls to 21 Assembly constituencies as Independents. While the party polled a respectable 10+ per cent of votes in several of the southern constituencies, it failed to win even a single seat. Suddenly it appeared as if the new giant-killer of Tamil Nadu politics was simply a mirage.

Allur K Srinivasan, the spokesperson of Anna Dravidar Kazhagam, launched by Dhinakaran's uncle V Divakaran, pointed out the loss of influence by comparing AMMK's performance in RK Nagar. "He secured 89,013 votes in the RK Nagar bypoll. But, his party candidate could get only 10,551 votes in the same RK Nagar assembly segment in the recently concluded LS polls," he said.

Burned by the performance, Dhinakaran who had once said the party would face any election with any symbol, shied from contesting bypolls to Vikravandi and Nanguneri assembly constituencies on grounds that the party could not get a symbol as it was not a registered party.

Between May 23, when the parliamentary poll results came out, and October 24, when the Vikravandi and Nanguneri results were announced, nearly 70 per cent of his state and district functionaries switched their loyalties to the ruling AIADMK or the DMK. The ruling AIADMK’s Namadhu Amma daily has gleefully published at least five news stories about AMMK functionaries -- from the village to State-level -- joining the AIADMK.

Victory went to his head?
The former AMMK functionary said he had failed to fulfil Sasikala's instructions and wishes. "His adamant and atrocious behaviour with party functionaries drove them away. Now, he is neither loyal to Jayalalithaa nor Sasikala. Hence, there are neither influential functionaries nor loyal cadres left,” he said.

“He managed to mobilise a large number of cadres after he won the RK Nagar bypoll. They gathered behind him as he presented himself as a strong opponent of the BJP and AIADMK. His decline is the result of egocentric politics because of  which even his family members stay away from him,” Srinivasan said, pointing out that this was the reason for Divakaran to launch his own party.

Blaming Dhinakaran for the split in Sasikala's family, Srinivasan charged that he had humiliated various influential persons who were close to Sasikala and her relatives.

V Pugazhenthi, former organizing secretary of AMMK, who left the party last week and plans to join the AIADMK, said that the RK Nagar victory went to Dhinakaran's head. “After winning, he started to think he was a mass leader like MGR and Jayalalithaa." 

No ear to ground

Dhinakaran's attitude apparently put supporters off from the very beginning. “He didn't consult anyone when it came to naming the party or choosing the design of the flag. In Dravidian land, he chose a party name without the word 'Dravida'. This prompted well-known orator Nanjil Sampath to leave the party," a former AMMK district secretary recalled.

"Despite not being a well-established leader, he stayed away from second-line leaders and cadres. This pushed them away from him. He never allowed state functionaries to meet him without an appointment, even in the case of an emergency. Hence, most of the functionaries not able to convey the ground realities to him," said the former AMMK functionary.

Pugazhenthi points to his handling of the disqualification of the 18 MLAs as a good example of his style of functioning. “Initially Thanga Tamilselvan, former Andipatti MLA, and others were ready to face the election as soon as they were disqualified.

But Dhinakaran was adamant about filing an appeal in the court and filed a case. Later, he unilaterally declared that the disqualified MLAs would face an election after the ruling of the third judge of the Madras High Court.

However, the disqualified MLAs were ready to appeal to the Supreme Court as they believed the apex court would rule in their favour. Both wrong decisions were taken by him without listening to others in general, and the disqualified MLAs in particular," he recounted.

Left in the lurch
Tamilselvan agreed. A former confidant of Dhinakaran, he joined the DMK after the parliamentary polls. “The reason for the fall of TTV Dhinakaran and AMMK is only ego, ego, ego. Nothing else," he fumed.

"First we, 18 MLAs, lost our position. He didn’t listen to us. He has been taking decisions like our former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and wanted to run the party as a one-man army. This is not possible as Jayalalithaa has an individual influence among the voters of Tamil Nadu. Dhinakaran is only a shadow. Hence, his acts didn’t get any support from the general public,” Tamilselvan explained.

"As soon as we were disqualified, I said we could face the election. At the time, we had a sympathy wave among voters. But, he forced us to file a case and it ended in all of us losing out,” he added. Indeed, of the 18 disqualified MLAs, only one won an election -- Senthil Balaji who won on a DMK ticket.

"All the others are in the streets,” Pugazhenthi said. "Initially, it was an internal tussle of AIADMK and he said let us retrieve the Two Leaves symbol and protect the party," Pugazhenthi recalled.

"But now it has become about a registering a new party. In India, there is no difficulty in registering a political party. Despite that he not able to register a party. Now, around 20 persons who submitted an affidavit to register AMMK as a political party have left the party because of his adamant and atrocious attitude,” Pugazhenthi said.

Not all lost
Veteran journalist and political observer T Koodalarasan noted that AMMK candidates had secured a decent number of vote in areas with large Thevar population. "They secured more than one lakh votes in Tiruchirappalli, Thanjavur, Sivaganaga, Theni, Virudhunagar, Ramanathapuram parliamentary constituencies. Hence, whether he is a successful leader or not a section of his caste members will continue to support him as they have either benefitted from him or from Sasikala,” he said.

Those still in the party also nurture hope and blame the AIADMK for luring away those with "weak minds". “Only negligible particles have left us. Loyal cadres and influential leaders are still following our leader TTV Dhinakaran. Now we are focusing on the local body elections and we will surely defeat the ruling AIADMK in all seats,” claimed M Rengasamy, deputy general secretary of AMMK.


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