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|August 28, 1999||
Campaign Trail/ A Ganesh Nadar
After four wins, Chidambaram finds himself on a sticky wicket in Sivaganga
Unlike Tamil Nadu's other southern districts which abound in coconut and palm trees -- there are none in Sivaganga. Only thorn bushes which give the area an arid, harsh look. How the people eke a living from this barren earth is anybody's guess. In Tamil Nadu punishment postings were earlier made to neighbouring Ramnad. Now errant officials can be posted to Sivaganga instead. Ramnad is comparatively greener, wetter.
Sivaganga is the Lok Sabha constituency of the former finance minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram of the Tamil Maanila Congress. Pitted against him are Congress candidate Sudershan Nachiappar and H Raja of the Bharatiya Janata Party. There are many Independents -- one even shares Chidambaram's name -- but they will not make an impression on the outcome. The Forward Bloc has put up a Devar candidate who may eat into Congress votes.
Chidambaram has won the seat four times before, but always in alliance with one or the other of the Dravidian parties. This time he is standing in alliance with the Puthiya Tamilagam. Victory looks difficult, though the TMC leader personally knows many people in the constituency.
This part of Tamil Nadu was once ruled by the Nachiappars, and this could help the Congress candidate who carries the dynasty's name. There is a prominent statue of Rani Velu Nachiappar on the main road in Sivaganga. BJP candidate Raja has to ride piggyback on the DMK-MDMK vote. His party has few supporters here.
The Sivaganga bus stop must be one of the dirtiest in the state. People spit everywhere. The toilets are not clean though you have to pay to use it. The buses are irregular, and some of those who ply the taxis outside could teach the denizens of the Chambal a few lessons. One resident says, "Chidambaram does not have AIADMK or DMK support. The alliance this time is a negative one. He will lose votes because of that. He should have got Rajni's (Tamil movie superstar Rajnikanth) support at least. Without support like that he will lose."
In Sivaganga and elsewhere in the constituency, Chidambaram has the most cars, vans and autorickshaws working for him. He is spending a lot of money. He is strong in the Karaikudi assembly segment, which BJP nominee Raja contested and lost in 1996.
The Puthiya Tamilagam does not have a presence here. And there are too few Chettiars, so Chidambaram cannot win on his caste vote alone. Raja has the DMK cadres working well for him. At 6.30 am they were playing songs praising Karunanidhi in Madurai. At 8.15 am they are playing songs praising Stalin (the Tamil Nadu chief minister's son, not the late Soviet tyrant) in Sivaganga.
The Communist Marxist-Leninist party has also put up a candidate here. Chandanamary has pasted small hand bills at a few places. They say 'Don't vote for communalist, corrupt or casteist forces.' I guess that leaves only her in the fray.
In Ilayankudi, an hour's drive away through dry land, the road was good, but everything is quiet. "All the parties have gone to the villages to canvass -- it becomes noisy here after 6 pm," said the local grocer. One resident felt the Congress would win, followed closely by the BJP. Chidambaram, he said, would come third. One old man contradicted him. "Chidambaram will win. Why, you ask me." "Why," I asked dutifully.
"Remember his Budget? It was acclaimed the world over. He made Sivaganga world famous." "What has he done for the constituency after making you world famous?" I asked politely. "Lots and lots." "What?" "Well, he would have bought in a gas unit but the government collapsed. The educated will vote for him.'
I wondered how many educated people there were in a place where they spoke a different dialect of Tamil. A dialect that spoke of illiteracy and poverty. The Illayangudi DMK MLA is Tamilkudimagan. He is the state minister for Tamil. He has done a lot here. All the canals have been dug. All the lakes cleared. But there is no water because there is no rain. There is a sizeable Muslim population here. They voted for the DMK earlier, but will certainly not vote for the BJP. This will work to the advantage of the Congress candidate, not for the TMC.
Chidambaram is on a sticky wicket. Money power is his only ally. But then money has been known to work wonders before. Chidambaram has to win because he is the only TMC candidate expected to do so in this election. If he loses, it will spell the end of the Third Front in the state. The next time around, TMC leader G K Moopanar will keep a safe distance from the firebrand Dr Krishnasamy, who heads the Puthiya Tamilagam.
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