Chennai: The Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), led by the suave, smart and maverick TTV Dhinakaran, has been awarded the symbol of 'gift pack' by the Election Commission (EC). The Supreme Court had earlier refused to order the EC to give the AMMK candidates the 'pressure cooker' symbol, the one on which Dhinakaran had famously won the RK Nagar Assembly by-election in 2017.

Though with hardly 20 days to go for the polls (April 18 in Tamil Nadu), the AMMK is content to look at the happy emotions associated with 'gift box', and see it as a good augury.

What the gift box actually contains for the AMMK, only time can tell. But the fact is the AMMK is in itself a mystery box, as opinions are divided about its impact in the elections in Tamil Nadu.

Many political commentators have opined that Dhinakaran will upset the applecart of the AIADMK, as the bulk of the established voter base of the party is upset as it is with the Palaniswamy-Panneerselvam combo. On the other hand, there are interpretations that if he can walk away with a considerable amount of votes antipathetic to the AIADMK, his presence then will actually be a disadvantage to the DMK, as the latter will not gain out of the anti-incumbency. The point is he may be the proverbial splitter, someone who traditionally ends up favouring the ruling team.

Of course, the election analysis is an imperfect science, but the fact of the matter is the AMMK is more focused on the Assembly by-elections to the 18 seats (they go to polls on April 18 as well), as those results would have a direct impact on the AMMK and AIADMK's future one way or the other.

"The AMMK is contesting in the Lok Sabha elections only to make a political statement. And if it does well, in terms of percentage of votes polled, it can score a few brownie points," M Bharat Kumar, a political commentator, said, "His primary aim is to win the AIADMK, as it were, and by extension become the political legatee of Jayalalithaa."

That Dhinakaran is aiming for her legacy is a delectable irony that Tamil Nadu politics unfailingly throws up. For, he was expelled from the AIADMK by Jayalalithaa herself and he was re-inducted into the party under controversial circumstances in 2017, long after Jayalalithaa's death, by Sasikala before she left to surrender herself in the Bengaluru court to serve the jail term in a disproportionate assets case.

Dhinakaran was of course expelled from the party subsequently by the EPS-OPS combo in August, 2017, which of course proved to be the trigger for the launch of the AMMK.

But before that, smarting under the coup d'etat that EPS-OPS delivered on him in the AIADMK, Dhinakaran proved a point to them (and also the DMK) by winning the RK Nagar by-election. And it was won more through blatant money power than principled politics. But the fact is his opponents also tried the same trick.

Whoever has interacted with Dhinakaran unfailingly say that he is a man of enormous self-motivation. "The clichéd never-say-die attitude is what he is made of," says one of the leading journalists, "He never gives up, and there is a philosophical side to him and that allows him to bide his time."

Despite the fact that Jayalalithaa expelled him, Dhinakaran has hung around in the fringes, thanks to his aunt Sasikala's backing. And now, he is still in the reckoning. Not many people have this kind of tenacity.        

Rathna G, a political analyst, who is also part of an NGO, said, "Dhinakaran's biggest political strength is he is a very good background organiser. He knows how to win elections. The AIADMK will surely miss that quality."

Given his controversial past, Dhinakaran has plenty of cases against him. So he would be wary of antagonising either the BJP or the Congress. But while his target is EPS and OPS, he would still want the AIADMK to remain intact. He would also not want to be seen as someone, who ended up handing victory to the DMK on a platter.

So his campaign strategy is a bit here and there. But his party is in the fray only to make a point. What is interesting to note is who will benefit out of the votes that the AMMK would poll.

The suspense over what the gift pack contains and who it is meant for may perhaps be the real story of these elections in Tamil Nadu.