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|September 1, 1999||
Caste and the DMK may fell Mani Shankar Aiyar yet again
D J Walter Scott in Mayiladuthurai
High-profile Congress candidate Mani Shankar Aiyar is attempting to make a comeback to Parliament from the Vanniyar-Dalit dominated Mayiladuthurai constituency in Thanjavur district, the 'rice bowl' of Tamil Nadu.
Aiyar, who is contesting this seat for the fourth time, is pitted against sitting MP and Tamil Maanila Congress nominee K Krishnamurthy and P D Arulmozhi, of the Pattali Makkal Katchi, an ally of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led National Democratic Alliance in the state.
A former Indian Foreign Service officer who served in then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's office, Aiyar registered his sole win in the 1991 election. He lost the two subsequent elections.
Enthused by the nearly 73,000 votes he polled in the 1998 election which he contested as an Independent candidate, Aiyar is confident of a win, though Arulmozhi, ably supported by the ruling DMK and its allies, appears to have an edge over him.
While Arulmozhi and Krishnamurthy both hail from the Vanniyar community and harp on the sons of soil theme, Aiyar, though a native of Thanjavur, is banking on his individual popularity and the good work done by him during his tenure as an MP.
He highlights his 'achievements -- getting a couple of industrial projects for the predominantly agri-based constituency and the Cauvery basin telecom district at Kumbakonam.
Pointing out to the academic records of his rivals, Arulmozhi, an undergraduate, and Krishnamurthy, a law graduate, the voluble Cambridge alumnus tells the voters that the two could not even speak in Parliament, leave alone getting things done for the constituency.
Aiyar is also relying on the 'Jayalalitha factor' to see him through. Congress leader Sonia Gandhi's portrait is conspicuous by its absence, and his party's symbol is described as 'MGR's symbol,' obviously to woo the voters.
Dalits and Vanniyars together constitute 60 per cent of the electorate, with the latter community alone accounting for 42 per cent.
If the votes are polled on caste lines, Aiyar is unlikely to get the votes of his own caste, as Brahmins, dominant in the Kumbakonam and Mayiladuthurai assembly segments, are sharply divided. Most of them appear to prefer the BJP and therefore, the PMK candidate.
Arulmozhi, who unsuccessfully contested the last election, is thus sitting pretty with the able support of the ruling DMK and its local leader, state minister Ko Si Mani.
While Aiyar is handicapped by the lack of coordination between the faction-ridden Congress and the All India Anna DMK, the BJP, DMK, PMK, Marumalarchi DMK cadres are working in tandem.
DMK minister Mani's excellent work in the Kumbakonam and Thiruvidaimaruthur assembly segments and his personal clout have added strength to the PMK candidate.
Not far behind is TMC nominee K Krishnamurthy. His vigorous campaign in remote villages has made the fight tough and the race neck and neck.
Like previous elections, Krishnamurthy, one of three TMC candidates to win the 1998 election in which the AIADMK-BJP combine swept the poll, is engaged in an intensive village to village campaign.
This humble candidate's major advantage appears to be his rapport with the common people. Upset by Aiyar's propaganda that he was a ''non performer'' in Parliament, he recalls his ten-minute speech on the railway budget and introductory remarks before staging a walk out on the Cauvery water issue.
Getting administrative sanction for the Rs 2.1 billion Thanjavur-Villupuram broad gauge railway line and clearing the Rs 130 million crop insurance scheme for the benefit of Tamil Nadu farmers were his major achievements, he says.
Enthusiastic youth from the Puthiya Tamizhagam and Liberation Panthers, the two dalit organisations which have joined the TMC-led Third Front, follow Krishnamurthy in his campaign to mobilise the more than 200,000 dalit votes.
Mayiladuthurai, a traditionally Congress seat, was won by the TMC in the 1996 and 1998 elections. The smallest state constituency in term of voters, it has an electorate of 1.05 million. There has been an increase of 38,762 voters after the recent revision of electoral rolls.
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