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September 3, 1999


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Campaign Trail/ Rangarajan Kumaramangalam

A Ganesh Nadar in Trichy

In the morning he was very polite. "The press is very important, but not now. My campaign is more important, please meet me after the campaign ends the day after tomorrow." His wife answered the phone in the afternoon. "He has to leave now and cannot speak to you." I insisted I wanted to hit the campaign trail with him. "The local leaders are many, there is no place in his car, you can join the convoy at the back."

The Sangam is a big hotel, with a swimming pool. The parking lot is dominated by a Pajero with a Delhi registration. It had seven party flags on it. It was clearly the Union minister's car.

Rangarajan Kumaramangalam came down, dressed in a sparkling white dhoti and shirt. The dhoti had a golden border. His shawl's borders had the BJP's colours on it. His very fair daughter was in a green salwar. The BJP's answer to Priyanka, I presumed. The wife was not around.

"Where is the open jeep" RK asked. The jeep was there, but the driver wasn't. The Pajero had two megaphones on the top. We headed towards the Golden Rock railway workshop. The union members were waiting for the minister. They carried their flags proudly. RK got down from the Pajero and got onto the open jeep.

The jeep had just one policeman armed with an automatic to protect the minister. The jeep became very crowded. A shawl was presented by an old man wearing the DMK colours. He held onto the minister's hands. He had to be pushed aside by the next person who too wanted to present a shawl. In Tamil Nadu we call it Ponnaddai. Ponn means gold and addai means clothes.

RK asked if he could begin his speech, but another young man wanted his moment in the sun. Another golden shawl was presented. The MC said, "We want you as railway minister." A Zee News crew turned up. And with the arrogance associated with the electronic media climbed onto the jeep's bonnet and aimed their camera and mike at RK. Again RK asked, "Can I speak?" No luck. One more speaker from the railways said his piece. Finally, the minister had the mike.

"Union leaders and members... Zee TV don't block my vision." The Zee crew promptly sat down on the bonnet. "The last time with your votes I not only became an MP but also a minister. After 50 years we got a minister from Tiruchi. I planned to do a lot in 5 years. I did what I could in 13 months. The last time Jayalalitha asked for votes for a stable government. The minute the elections got over she did everything for instability. At that time Adaikalaraj was the TMC candidate. Now he is the Congress candidate. Actually I don't mind which party he is standing from. In his 13 years as MP he says he has done a lot. We have done more in 13 months.

"They are doing a lot of false propaganda. CITU comes out with new allegations everyday. They said I had given an order meant for BHEL to NEPC. Even after I gave the order to BHEL they are still spreading lies.

"They have no ideals in politics. We come to serve. There are thousands of professions and business. Service is not a profession. Service to people is service to God. They are treating it like business. There are 2,000 young people here without jobs. Last year only 120 were appointed. This workshop has to be rejuvenated. First, we have to get the funds. It is easy to promise, but difficult to implement. As your comrade, as your friend I will give you employment. (applause). The 21st century will be ours The country will bloom. Our city will flower. This talented city, this literate city, must go ahead into the next century.

"Today there are many divisions but after the elections we must be one family. We need a good prime minister. In Kargil Pakistan was condemned by the whole world. Even the Islamic nations condemned Pakistan. This is because Vajpayeeji handled the situation so well. Accept me as your comrade and vote for me."

A big rose garland appeared. Somebody announced a cycle rally. RK said "Tomorrow I will canvass house to house. Now I have to go back to town."

The convoy moved into Trichy town. Autos, cars, vans waited for us. The DMK had not put up too many posters, but now their activists turned up in strength. The MDMK had arranged for a band and dancers in an open jeep. What they lacked in numbers they made up in drama and style. Three women joined us. One was the local councillor. She got on the open jeep with RK. There were a lot of two wheelers in the rally now. Most carried DMK flags and a few BJP banners.

The welcome in the poorer quarters of the town was stupendous. Everybody came out to see the minister. The The convoy stopped at regular intervals. Women performed aartis, others ceremonies to to protect the minister from the evil eye. He got many shawls.

At one pit stop, RK started his speech with "Jayalalitha..." A young man screamed, "Don't mention her name." Others in the crowd asked the heckler not to interrupt. RK did not mention Amma's name again.

The convoy wound its way through the narrow lanes. The people had turned out in great numbers. Up ahead the road forked -- one to the main road and the other deep into a slum. The BJP leader travelling with me wanted to go onto the main road. The policemen -- and there were many now -- also wanted the convoy to travel onto the main road. Some leaders wanted to visit the innards of the slum. One police officer growled, "These people never see the security angle."

A fight broke out between the BJP leader travelling with me and the local DMK politician who had a fierce, massive moustache. Local DMK activists blocked the way to the main road with their two wheelers. The BJP leader asked the cops to remove the bikes. We were moments away from a violent fracas when one enterprising youth ran back to the minister to inform him of the quarrel. RK agreed to go into the slum.

On the way back, my autorickshaw driver said, "Just because they make more noise does not mean they will win. The last time we punished the local man, Adaikalaraj. Now that he has seen the error of his ways, we will elect him again. He belongs to this city. You cannot deny that." I was too tired to argue. I had a story to file and then miles to go before I slept.

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