NEW DELHI: The victory of the AIADMK’s T T V Dhinakaran -- as an ‘independent’ -- in the assembly by-election from R K Nagar in Chennai has come as a huge shock to all his detractors, beginning with the BJP’s Modi Sarkar and the ruling faction of the AIADMK to the DMK and the dozen parties that backed it.

Coming in from the sidelines to take the political centre-stage by storm, long after he was all but written off, Dhinakaran has worsted all his political opponents not just by winning, but winning AIADMK leader and former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s own seat and thereby claiming her legacy.

The by-election result declared on December 21 has turned his ‘enemies’ into his potential allies at best and his rivals at worst. Those who set out to finish him politically are making tracks – albeit indirectly if not deviously – to draw him into a dialogue. At the moment, he is the most sought-after legislator in the country.

And, we are only at the beginning of a story which may unravel with unforeseen twists and turns as Dhinakaran scripts his audacious return to power with a savvy and finesse for which few gave him credit until a few days ago. His first step would, doubtless, have to be regaining control of the ruling AIADMK group controlled by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisami (EPS) and his reluctant deputy O Panneerselvam (OPS). Dhinakaran said as much when he indicated that the government in Tamil Nadu would change within two to three months.

The fate of EPS, OPS and the government led by EPS-OPS – which enjoys the support of the BJP at the highest level – is sealed. At the very first meeting of ministers called by EPS and OPS to review the election outcome and its consequences, five AIADMK ministers were either “absent” or “missing”. On Dec 25, the ruling AIADMK also sacked six party functionaries for being supporters of Dhinakaran. It is very jittery about the assembly session scheduled to begin on January 22 and those in government are wondering whether they will last until the third week of the New Year.

The BJP is on the back foot although, according to those in the know, the party ruling at the Centre is no less determined to keep the AIADMK united and in office in Tamil Nadu as long as possible. Although Dhinakaran was arrested and faced a barrage of accusations from attempting to bribe the Election Commission officials to violations of the FERA, those who were out to get him then are now said to be ready to “make amends”.

A section of the BJP’s state leadership feels that the party’s central leaders had “mishandled” Dhinakaran, and underestimated his power, reach, organisational skills, resources and resourcefulness. Neither the loss of the Two Leaves election symbol nor the cases against him could stop the former AIADMK Deputy General Secretary’s win by an unprecedented margin in the assembly by-election. The odds were stacked heavily against him with both the Central and state governments pulling out all the stops to defeat him. Nevertheless, Dhinakaran won. His past political experience must have helped him outwit his powerful detractors who are entrenched in Delhi, for Dhinakaran is no stranger to finding his way in the national capital. He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1999 from Periyakulam and to the Rajya Sabha in 2004. It wouldn’t be surprising if the BJP, in the interests of “stability”, begins talking to Dhinakaran for uniting all the AIADMK camps. For his part, Dhinakaran may well be motivated to get the better of the BJP leadership – in whatever pragmatic ways he can – to reach his goal of being the principal force driving the AIADMK and the Tamil Nadu government.

Right now, Dhinakaran holds most of the aces. He has not yet revealed either his hand or the strength of his “sleepers” in the ruling AIADMK. At the start of play, the opponents he faces are shell-shocked and, perhaps, looking to negotiate with him and not fell him politically.

If his electoral victory has put the BJP on the defensive and in a deal-making mood, the DMK which led a 13-party alliance in the R K Nagar by-election no longer looks like the party in waiting to form the government when the AIADMK collapses. The DMK candidate lost his deposit although he did better than the BJP contestant, who got even less votes than NOTA. The DMK’s M K Stalin, who has been viewed as an “emerging chief minister” biding his time, can no longer be too sure of how the numbers would add up when the chips are down and Dhinakaran goes all out to capture the AIADMK and the government.

The biggest surprise the election has thrown up is driving home the fact that there is very much a post-Jayalalithaa space in Tamil politics waiting to be filled; and, that Jayalalithaa can still bring in the votes for one fighting an election in her name.

In the voters’ perception, Dhinakaran is the chosen one to carry forward Jayalalithaa’s legacy with or without the Two Leaves symbol.

The DMK leaders being acquitted in the 2G case on the morning of polling day had little electoral effect in the face of all that Dhinakaran had marshalled to win the election that may determine the direction of Tamil politics.

The DMK may have shed its 2G stain, but it does not seem to hold out the promise of any electoral gain, at least, for now.