Chennai: Senior AIADMK leader E Madhusudhanan will be the party's candidate for the Radhakrishnan Nagar Assembly seat in Chennai, by-elections for which will be held on December 21. The RK Nagar seat was left vacant by the death of AIADMK chief and former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and retaining it is a matter of prestige for Tamil Nadu's ruling party and also its first electoral test since the death of its powerful leader.
Mr Madhusudhanan, who is chairman of the AIADMK's presidium and was a staunch supporter of Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam or OPS, during his brief estrangement with the party this year, was picked as the "unanimous choice," the AIADMK said, to contest the RK Nagar seat from among several leaders who had thrown their hats in the ring after the united AIADMK led by OPS and Chief Minister E Palaniswami (EPS) was granted the party's famous two-leaves symbol by the Election Commission.
The RK Nagar by-election was cancelled earlier this year over allegations of voters being bribed. At that time, TTV Dhinakaran, removed recently as AIADMK's deputy chief as a result of OPS and EPS joining hands, was to have contested as the candidate of the Chief Minister's faction, while Mr Madhusudhanan was fielded by the O Panneerselvam faction.
The candidates haven't changed. Mr Dhinakaran is now contesting as a rebel, while Mr Madhusudhanan is the party's official candidate. Opposition DMK too has fielded the same candidate in DMK's M Maruthu Ganesh as it had done in April for the election that was cancelled.
Mr Ganesh is a local RK Nagar resident and the DMK hopes that the AIADMK's struggle with a leadership crisis and what it calls falling ratings in the state after Ms Jayalalithaa's death will help it wrest RK Nagar from the AIADMK.
The AIADMK has fielded Mr Madhusudhanan not only for the fact that he has held this seat before, but also because of his Telugu connection; RK Nagar has a sizeable Telugu population. Mr Madhusudhanan is also expected to benefit from the party symbol being released for use by the poll panel. In April, neither faction was allowed to use two-leaves symbol, which was frozen by the Election Commission after both sides had claimed it as the "real AIADMK."
Mr Dhinakaran - who is the nephew of jailed leader VK Sasikala, also evicted by the united EPS and OPS as AIADMK chief - could play spoiler for Mr Madhusudhanan but the party reckons that the damage should be limited. The Sasikala faction of the party shrank earlier this week when three of the 18 legislators who had earlier pledged allegiance to it returned to the Chief Minister's fold.
After J Jayalaithaa died last December, her long-time companion VK Sasikala took control of the party, prompting Mr Panneerselvam to rebel when she also decided to be chief minister. Her conviction in a corruption case stalled those plans, but she was jailed she ensured that her then loyalist EPS was appointed chief minister and her nephew Dhinakaran, the party's number 2.
EPS and OPS merged their factions in August this year, expelling Ms Sasikala and Mr Dhinakaran, who challenge the move.