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|February 21, 1998|
Constituency Profile/ Tirunelveli
The honest man and the filmstar
A Ganesh Nadar
The Tirunelveli Lok Sabha constituency includes the six assembly segments of Ottapidaram, Palayamcottai, Srivaikuntam, Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Vilathikulam.
Palayamcottai, Tirunelveli and Tuticorin are towns. The rest are rural, very backward areas. In the towns it looks like election time and in the rural areas it's like what the ancient Greek philosopher said, 'One moment it is and the next moment it is not'.
In many villages, the election fever has not affected the sleepy folk who laze around in the extremely hot afternoon. Most don't care who represents them in Delhi. And the cadres are not happy because unlike the assembly election, funds are not so easily available now.
The electorate number 1.07 million with women outnumbering the men by about 11,000. As long as women outnumber men the dowry problem is going to persist.
Though there are many candidates in the fray, it's going to be a straight fight between film star Sharat Kumar of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and thrice MP Janardhan of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The third and fourth positions will be taken by the Puthiya Tamilagam, a dalit party, and the parallel ADMK which is contesting as the MGRADMK. Posters of Sonia Gandhi grace the walls as the Congress is an ally of the parallel ADMK.
In this district, caste clashes occurred frequently in the Jayalalitha days and continued in the Karunanidhi era. Because of Sasikala, Jayalalitha's companion, the Thevars, who constitute 12 per cent of the electorate, will vote for the AIADMK. The Muslims, who are concentrated in Melapalayam and scattered in other parts of the constituency, are expected to vote for the DMK. They constitute eight per cent of the total votes. The 19 per cent scheduled caste votes will be shared by the film star and the Puthiya Tamilagam.
The Nadars constitute 13 per cent of the electorate. When the DMK announced Sharat Kumar as their candidate, the Nadars in Kulayankarisal. Pandaraivallai and Savithivapuram villages got into action. Posters appeared all over the place, particularly on buses, saying that the community would not vote for Sharat Kumar. The reason they gave was 'Sharat Kumar has joined hands with Karunanidhi who helped Sivasankaran take over the Tamil Nadu Mercantile Bank which legitimately belongs to us'.
"The bank is not a political issue, it involves only one community," counters Sharat Kumar, "Here I must look to all communities. I didn't support them because they were Nadars. I would've done it for any community."
When Sharat Kumar led a morcha of Nadars to help 'their bank', the Nadars thought he joined them because he is a Nadar. Sharat says otherwise.
When I mentioned the angry posters, Sharat Kumar says, "Within six hours of my arrival here I solved that problem." He had the posters removed.
But will that help? A cross-section of Nadars told me in very clear tones, "We will vote for anybody we like, but it will not be Sharat!"
ADMK candidate Janardhan accused Sharat Kumar of politicising the bank issue. Physically, Sharat is a tall, handsome young man who speaks forcibly. Janardhan is an old, bent man. He must be 20 years older than Jayalalitha, but falls at her feet every time the opportunity arises.
To counter the fact that he lives in Madras Sharat Kumar has promised to open an office in every assembly constituency: "Every petition that is received in these offices will be dealt with promptly. I will give 50 per cent of my time for the constituency and the rest for my film career. In case of an emergency I will cancel all shooting work and rush to my people. I have to be in Delhi also, you know."
As an actor he is very popular. A rich producer, too, he has no monetary problems. Sharat is staying in the most expensive hotel in Tirunelveli and Janardhan in the second most expensive. While Sharat never asks his cadres about expenses, Janardhan on the way out of the hotel tells the receptionist, "Those people in my room, let them make local calls; but no trunk or STD."
An ADMK worker was strongly reprimanded for asking the candidate for money. "You must work because you love the party not because I pay you," he was told. When the worker persisted Janardhan threw him out of the room.
Senior party leaders confided that Janardhan frequently avoided party workers who demanded money. In this matter Sharat Kumar has a clear lead.
While Sharat Kumar says "I am lucky to have senior and experienced politicians like Periasamy and Jennifer Chandran to help me," the truth is something else all together. Tuticorin MLA Periasamy is also the DMK's district secretary. During the panchayat election last year he managed to get his daughter elected to the post of district chairperson. Periasamy is rumoured to have asked Karunanidhi for this seat for his dear daughter. Sitting DMK MP Sivaprakasam also wanted the same seat. Karunanidhi chose an outsider who was not even in the party.
Thus, Sivaprakasam, Periasamy and state Fisheries Minister Jennifer Chandran have not assisted in the campaign. Another phenomenon is that the people working closely with the star are not DMK party workers, but his beloved fans.
Janardhan has the reputation of being an honest man. He is also known as a simple man who is easily approachable. There are no charges against Sharat because this is his maiden entry into politics.
Vilathikulam has a lot of MDMK votes which will go to Janardhan. Ottapidaram is a reserved constituency and thus the Puthiya Tamilagam will benefit. In Tirunelveli and Palayamcottai the DMK will certainly win. In Tuticorin, though the MLA may be from the DMK, the municipal chairman is an ADMK man. And with Periasamy sulking, the ADMK will benefit. Srivaikuntam is equally divided.
In the north a simple man like Janardhan could have won, but this is Tamil Nadu where film stars are rated next to gods. So Sharat will win, even while Janardhan talks about visiting every village like Mahatma Gandhi and solving all their problems.
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