In TN, Rajapaksa's friend seeks a second chance
A Ganesh Nadar visits Ramanathapuram in poll-bound Tamil Nadu and meets Congress MLA K Hasan Ali, whom opponents dub as 'traitor' for being a friend to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Congress election office in south Tamil Nadu's Ramanathapuram appeared very busy, full of party workers. They were waiting to start their evening campaign for K Hasan Ali, the sitting MLA.
Ramanathapuram district includes the famous Rameswaram island from where Sri Lanka is only 18 kilometres away. This district also includes Mandapam, where Sri Lankan Tamil refugees are first registered before being sent to the camps throughout the state. Mandapam also has the biggest camp for Tamil refugees.
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Hasan Ali won the last time in alliance with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. This time too he had got the party ticket to contest. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam here had given the seat to its ally -- the Maninethaneyar Makkal Katchi -- a Muslim party.
Hasan Ali confessed that although he has done a few things in his constituency, but he has been extremely lucky since many good schemes had come to his constituency during his tenure.
"Broad gauge has come to Rameshwaram thanks to (Prime Minister) Manmohan Singhji. Five trains are coming here regularly, and that makes commutation much better. Roads have become better and broader," he said.
He went on to say, "Before 2006, drinking water was bad out here. Chief Minister M Karunanidhi sanctioned Rs 617 crore to bring drinking water here. Now Kaveri water comes here from Mukayur in Tiruchi district."
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Image: Congress MLA K Hasan Ali
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/rediff.com
'Knowing Rajapakse doesn't make me a traitor'
There have been frequent skirmishes between the Indian fishermen and the Lankan navy in this area. The Sri Lankan navy had shot at Indian fishermen frequently and also assaulted them.
Hasan Ali said, "Last month an agreement has been signed between India and Sri Lanka. Even if our fishermen cross the international maritime boundary line, they must not be shot at or assaulted. They can only be arrested."
"I initiated that agreement as the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is my friend of 34 years. My father has lived in Sri Lanka for 35 years. He was a gem merchant there. I used to go for my holidays to Sri Lanka. I know Lankan Attorney General Diwanka Vikramasinghe. I met President Rajapaksa through him."
"At that time he was in college. He was the youngest MP in Sri Lanka. We remained friends through the years. Even yesterday I spoke to him," Ali said.
The MMK and its ally the ADMK were distributing notices which had a photo of Hasan Ali shaking hands with Rajapaksa.
"They are calling me a traitor. The Election Commission is taking action against them because they haven't taken permission for this notice," he said.
"Knowing Rajapaksa doesn't make me a traitor. I am not hiding the fact that I know him," he declared.
"My party is a secular party. We stand for secularism. There has been no communal tension in my constituency," he said.
He went on to say that Ramanathapuram had given Swami Vivekananda to the world and also the 'best president' APJ Abdul Kalam.
Image: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa
'DMK-Cong putting up a more united front'
In the Congress office sat Rehmethullah. He had just left the MMK and joined the Congress. His grouse was that 'the DMK had given reservation for Muslims, and instead of appreciating that, the MMK had allied with the AIADMK which had done nothing for Muslims.'
A voter said that this was the most peaceful campaigning he had ever seen. He hoped that the peace would last till polling day. An Election Commission vehicle came roaring through with its red light flashing and siren blaring.
A passerby laughed, "This is the only sign that the elections are on. Why is his siren blaring? I would have understood if it was polling day. Why are they so excited today? All they want to show is their importance."
A tea shop owner said that the competition was close and it was difficult to judge who would win. A young voter said, "The sitting MLA from the Congress, Hasan Ali, has a better chance, he will win."
A local journalist said, "The DMK and the Congress go out to canvass for votes together. They take all their allies with them. But the MMK and AIADMK go separately. They don't take their allies with them. Both sides are working hard but the DMK-Congress is putting up a more united front."
And this may be the deciding factor in the election here. Not the fact that Hasan Ali is Rajapakse's friend.
Image: The Congress office in Ramanathapuram
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar