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Does Karti Chidambaram stand a chance in father's constituency?

April 10, 2014 12:38 IST

Does Karti Chidambaram stand a chance in father's constituency?

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A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

P Chidambaram declined to contest the Lok Sabha election, but Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar runs into the finance minister who is working hard to ensure an unlikely victory for his son Karti in Sivaganga, which Chidambaram has represented since 1984.

The presence of heavily armed police on the road signals the presence of a political heavyweight nearby.

The Karaikudi Congress office is crowded with party workers in their white shirts and veshtis. The veshti, of course, has the Congress stripes to differentiate them from those of the Dravidian parties.

Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram is upstairs, sitting alone, speaking on the telephone. He seems surprised it is a public holiday in Delhi on the occasion of Ram Navami.

He signals me to sit down as he continues his phone call.

In his office are calendars with pictures of him, his son Karti, who has been nominated by the Congress to contest the Lok Sabha election from Sivaganga (a constituency which the finance minister squeaked through in the 2009 Lok Sabha election), Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

There is also a photograph of party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi shaking hands with Karti.

"Please don't click pictures here, I am not giving interviews," Chidambaram says after he ends his phone conversation. "I called you upstairs to see what you wanted."

I tell him I am here to shoot photographs and ask questions, and Chidamabaram -- he, of the intimidating demeanour -- agrees to be photographed downstairs.

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Image: Finance Minister P Chidambaram at the Karaikudi Congress office.
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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Does Karti Chidambaram stand a chance in father's constituency?

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A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

Chidambaram comes down almost immediately and proceeds to the back of the building. Party workers want him to watch a campaign video.

"Who will watch a video for 59 minutes? Cut it short!" Chidambaram commands as the video plays out.

There are shots of his only child Karti speaking to a crowd and repeating his sentences.

"Why is he repeating everything?"

"For emphasis," says the video's producer.

"It looks like he doesn't know how to talk and is repeating himself. Cut it!"

The video has scenes from Tamil cinema with comedians as politicians.

"What is all this? Just cut it all out!"

Chidambaram seems particularly annoyed at scenes poking fun at other party symbols.

"Cut this too!" he says, shaking his head.

The producer looks petrified.

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Image: Finance Minister P Chidambaram reviews a campaign video at the Karaikudi Congress office in Tamil Nadu.
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com
Tags: Karti

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Does Karti Chidambaram stand a chance in father's constituency?

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A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

The video has now moved on to how the finance minister slashed the interest payment of 900,000 students at a cost of Rs 2,600 crore (Rs 26 billion). There are clips of Tamil cinema legend Vairamuthu and film stars Kamal Hassan and Rajnikanth praising Chidambaram.

By now, Chidambaram has stopped ordering 'cuts'.

Though Chidambaram has won the Sivaganga Lok Sabha seat seven times, it has always been with the help of one of the major Dravidian parties.

Despite his high standing in the Congress party and the government, Chidambaram and his son are on an extremely sticky wicket this election.

When he declined to contest the Lok Sabha election, the party gave the ticket to Karti. Sivaganga, along with the other 38 Lok Sabha constituencies in Tamil Nadu, votes on April 24.

Three rickshaw drivers in Tirupattur -- a town in Sivaganga constituency -- laugh aloud when I ask about the Congress being voted back to power.

"You must be joking, where is the Congress here? Chidambaram has been MP since 1984 and what has he done? He brought one (road) bypass into the constituency, one BHEL (Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited) unit and an ITBP (Indo Tibetan Border Police) training centre. This in 30 years! He will lose badly," says one rickshaw driver.

Sivaganga is arid and dry. There are vast stretches of dry broken land with a few coconut, cashew and eucalyptus farms.

There is an Apollo Hospital and Vasan Eye care hospital in Karaikudi, which seem strangely out of place. Opposite the hospital is the heavily guarded guesthouse where Chidambaram is based currently.

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Image: The Karaikudi Congress office.
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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Does Karti Chidambaram stand a chance in father's constituency?

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A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

"Every candidate feels he will win," says Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam district Secretary K P Periyakaruppan, "that is why they contest so I cannot predict what he will get, that you ask him," refusing to speculate how Karti Chidambaram will fare this election.

Periyakaruppan is a former Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment minister, and people continue to address him as minister.

Every 15 villages in Tamil Nadu has a union. The DMK secretary has invited all the union secretaries to the district for an election meeting. One union secretary is B P Jeganathan, an actor in the Tamil television soap Nadaswaram. He also has a theatre group and is a staunch DMK supporter.

The main fight in Tamil Nadu is between the DMK and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The Congress is not even in the picture, points out Periyakaruppan, who has a photograph of Chidambaram framed on the wall of his home.

There are no posters anywhere in the town. A lone autorickshaw roams the 18 wards of Tirupattur town. The speaker lauds DMK leader M Karunanidhi, his son and political heir M K Stalin, and the local candidate.

AIADMK supremo and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has vowed to defeat Chidambaram, a political adversary of many years, and most voters believe she will do so this time easily. Of course, by proxy, since Chidambaram is no longer the candidate in Sivaganga.

In the fray along with Karti Chidambaram are P R Senthil Nathan of the AIADMK, Suba Durairaj of the DMK, H Raja of the Bharatiya Janata Party and S Krishnan of the Communist Party of India. Each of them is trying to win over almost 1.4 million voters across six assembly seats.

Even as the summer sun beats down remorselessly, the candidates are sweating it out. They know that 15 days of hard work can lead to five years of ahem... comfort and luxury.

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Image: Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam district Secretary K P Periyakaruppan holds an election meeting with village union secretaries.
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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