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|September 9, 1999||
'The voters will take their money, but will vote for us'
N Sathiya Moorthy
Periyakulam parliamentary constituency in southern Tamil Nadu has acquired the status of a VIP constituency in general and that of a VVIP constituency as far as the AIADMK goes. All senior AIADMK leaders, starting with party founder MGR, current chief J Jayalalitha and the permanent number two V R Nedunchezhiyan have fought and won their assembly seats, at one time or the other, from segments within the Periyakulam Lok Sabha constituency.
In the 1962 poll, the Theni assembly segment here returned the first actor-politician to an elected legislature in the world. S S Rajendran of the DMK thus corrects the popular myth that MGR was the first actor-legislator since 1967.
The AIADMK has now fielded T T V Dinakaran, a nephew of Sasikala Natarajan, the confidante of Jayalalitha, who along with her family members have been in the eye of one political storm after the other. Brother of the Jayalalitha's disowned foster-son V N Sudhakaran, Dinakaran spent an year in detention for alleged Foreign Exchange Regulation Act violations, and replaces the equally controversial Sedapatti R Muthiah as the AIADMK candidate.
As may be recalled, Muthiah had to quit as a minister in the Vajpayee government after a court in Madras framed corruption charges against him. He was in the news more recently for 'forgetting' to cast his crucial vote in the confidence motion moved by the Vajpayee government, which is at the root of the snap polls to the Lok Sabha now. Jayalalitha is not leaving anything to chance. She is camping in Periyakulam for three days towards the end of the campaign for the September 11 polling. So is Dinakaran, who has been using every trick in the trade and outside to ensure victory.
Both Dinakaran and Jayalalitha feel that his presence in Delhi as the head of the AIADMK Lok Sabha team would serve its own purposes. For precisely this reason, the DMK is doing everything possible to tie down Dinakaran in more controversies than have been known.
The party has pitted Dravidian ideologue K Selvendran, who did a quick tour of the MDMK and the AIADMK before returning home earlier this year. As if controversy and Dinakaran could not be parted, the DMK went to town saying that the AIADMK nominee was not qualified to contest Indian election as he has taken up the citizenship of Singapore. The returning officer did not accept their objections, and the DMK is sure to approach the courts if the results do not favour it.
More recently, there were also complaints from the All India Forward Bloc leadership in the state that Dinakaran's men had kidnapped their candidate P Selvam. Ironically, Selvam himself reportedly appeared before the district authorities, claiming that he had not been kidnapped, but had on his own accord retired in favour of the AIADMK nominee.
Dinakaran is counting on his numerically strong Thevar community, which is seen as pro-AIADMK because of the 'Sasikala family link'. The Forward Bloc too is seen as a party of Thevars. AIADMK cadres say that the DMK alone had encouraged the Forward Bloc to field its nominees in select constituencies, to try cut into the Thevar vote bank.
While the AIADMK camp has no doubts about Dinakaran's invincibility, the DMK workers point out that Selvendran too is a Thevar, and would thus cut into the community votes.
Interestingly, the constituency suffers from the 'outsider syndrome' more severely this time than earlier. Dinakaran is based in Madras, Jayalalitha's high-security Poes Garden residence to be precise, while Selvendran is a resident of Madurai town, the main regional centre, about an hour's drive from Periyakulam. Even the dalit-strong Puthiya Thamizhagam nominee of the TMC-led Third Front, the controversial film star Mansur Ali Khan, is based in Madras.
If the AIADMK cadres say that Selvendran became unavailable to the locals after being elected earlier, the DMK workers say that the voters could not get to see Dinakaran after breaking through all the security cordons of Poes Garden. Against this, the PT nominee says that he would shift base to Periyakulam if elected.
Mansur Ali Khan is counting on the substantial dalit votes and also a section of the Muslims in the constituency. Though his campaign, like the candidate and his political party, had started off with a controversy, his apologising to the Forward Bloc candidate after a Thevar-Dalit row while filing nominations, and his threat to withdraw his candidature if his workers misbehaved, have all gone down well. He is going around in a bullock-cart, the PT's poll symbol.
For all this, however, the real fight is between Dinakaran and Selvendran. As independent observers say, the polling day is likely to witness not only tension, if not group clashes, but also free flow of money. Already, money doesn't seem to be a problem for the two main contenders, not certainly for Dinakaran.
"The voters will take their money, but will only vote for us," says a DMK worker, a view echoed also by the AIADMK camp and the PT side.
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