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Rediff.com  » News » Allies-turned-foes Jaya and Vijayakanth face off in TN bypoll

Allies-turned-foes Jaya and Vijayakanth face off in TN bypoll

Last updated on: March 14, 2012 11:08 IST

TN bye-elections: Which way will the tide turn?

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A Ganesh Nadar in Sankarankovil, Tamil Nadu

A Ganesh Nadar reports on the bye-elections in Sankarankovil in Thirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, the first test of strength since last year's assembly elections, in which friends-turned-foes Jayalalithaa and Vijayakanth face off against each other

Tamil Nadu's first bye-elections since last April's assembly polls, in Sankarankovil, Thirunelveli district, is necessitated by the death of the sitting member of the legislative assembly and state minister C Karuppasamy, who held this seat for four continuous terms for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

There are 13 candidates in the fray in this Scheduled Caste constituency. The main parties are the AIADMK, its rival the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam, 'Captain' Vijayakanth's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The Bharatiya Janata Party is also one of the contenders, though no one takes it seriously, apart from eight independents.

It had been raining in Thirunelveli and Tuticorin districts, so the weather was pleasant compared with the blistering heat of the last few days. But that doesn't mean the heat is off the candidates.

In Sankarankovil, home to the Sankara Narayanan temple, the MDMK cadres have been going door to door, beseeching for votes, "Amma, if I come to you hungry, won't you feed me? I am hungry for an assembly seat, we don't have even one MLA, please give us this opportunity to serve you," goes their plea.

Compare this with its chief Vaiko's speech in Vallaramapuram, about 20 kilometres from Sankarankovil, where he doesn't beg. He was supposed to be there at 3 pm, but landed up only at 4.45 pm with two Tata Sumos, a minibus and one auto rickshaw full of supporters in tow.

He starts his speech saying that he had been coming to this village for 30 years, and the villagers had a 'habit' of social service.

Then he claims that he had cried that morning when he read in the papers that Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's slain chief Prabhakaran's 12-year-old son had been shot five times.

Locals around the area joke that Vaiko should run for elections in Sri Lanka, since he has lost the plot in Tamil Nadu. Others feel that the MDMK had been working the longest in this assembly segment, and since Vaiko's village Kalingapatti is also in the same constituency, the party can pull off a sensational upset over other bigwigs. 

But Vaiko's speech leaves him outside the crease -- and out hit wicket as well, as they say.

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Image: Independent candidate and Gandhian S Arumugam promises total prohibition in Tamil Nadu if elected


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'I have God and the people with me'

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Elsewhere, DMDK chief and leader of opposition 'Captain' Vijayakanth arrives to the beat of drums, loud music and a very enthusiastic party worker who kept yelling 'long live future chief minister'.

Considering that there are some AIADMK supporters a mere 100 feet from where Vijayakanth is, he takes the opportunity to prove a point.

"You think I care what you are doing? Do what you want, I don't care," and to prove it, he breaks into a little jig. The crowd goes wild, naturally. This is the state, after all, where histrionics dominated politics the longest. 

He then claims that he was suspended from the assembly for criticising the price rise of milk, bus fares and power. He says  Tamil Nadu faced continuous power cuts through the day and there was no governance. He says he had started a party because both the Dravidian parties who had ruled Tamil Nadu since 1967 were "useless".

"They have sent 32 ministers to counter me, but they will not succeed as I have God and the people with me," he says.

Vijayakanth claims that this election is about people versus the AIADMK, and he wants the people to win. In the 2011 assembly elections, the AIADMK and the DMDK had a tie-up which resulted in a washout of the DMK, the then ruling party, reducing it to third position.

An election observer wants to intervene, but the crowd around Vijayakanth refuses to budge.

Vijayendra Bidari, the Thirunelveli superintendent of police, is seen telling him to go to some other street.

Bidari tells rediff.com, "We have seized Rs 6.6 lakh on Monday. All in all, we have seized more than Rs 50 lakh in the last 10 days."

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Image: The BJP's candidate seeks votes in the name of former prime minister AB Vajpayee
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar

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'The ruling party can get away with murder'

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The story goes that when the DMK was the ruling party, Alagiri's men had bribed every single voter in Thirumangalam, near Madurai, with Rs 2,000 after the AIADMK had distributed Rs 1,000 per voter. The DMK won that bye-election easily, and this came to be called the 'Thirumangalam formula'.

Bidari is afraid that the 'Thirumangalam formula' would be applied in Sankarankovil too.

Actor Sarath Kumar's Samathuva Makkal Katchi works for the AIADMK, they are a party of youngsters drawn from Sarath Kumar fan clubs across the state. Their party general secretary Nagarajan is confident that they would win with a margin of 20,000 votes.

He said that milk prices, bus fares and power fares might have been increased but salaries were also increasing, and it was interesting that no one was complaining that liquor prices have doubled in Tamil Nadu.

When we remind him that on Monday, an AIADMK councillor's lorry that was transporting illegal sand crushed a 21-year-old to death, he responds, "Alagiri's (Karunanidhi's son) men killed three people in the Dinakaran (TV channel) office when they were in power. That is the way in Tamil Nadu. The ruling party can get away with murder."

Nagarajan is heard instructing his partymen that they should mobilise 300 people for Chief Minister Jayalaltiha's meeting on March 14.

One of the men was says, "We have to give them Rs 40 for bus fare, Rs 30 for lunch and Rs 100 as salary, that works to Rs 51,000. Are you okay with that?"

Nagarajan promptly replied, "Make sure that they are waving our party flags."

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Image: Supporters of Sarath Kumar's Samathuva Makkal Katchi
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar

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Stalin, or Alagiri?

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Interestingly, two helipads worth Rs 40 lakh each have been constructed in Sankarankovil for Jayalalithaa's election campaign. A source tells us that she refuses to drive down from the armed police helipad 50 km away.

A lone vehicle with Mahatma Gandhi's pictures all over it rolls in lazily. The candidate claims that if he wins, he would bring in total prohibition in Tamil Nadu. Yet another candidate has a picture of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his van.

Stalin, DMK president Karunanidhi's third son, was to start canvassing at 6 pm. He does not arrive until 7 pm, and so his first two meetings are cancelled. On his way in from Thirunelveli, his convoy is stopped by a DMK member of Parliament to present him with the shawl. He accepts it with indifference.

Elsewhere, Stalin's elder brother Alagiri is sitting in the DMK's main election office. This is a huge tent and Alagiri has his own room.

His supporters present him with shawls; another man comes in carrying a dozen tender coconuts. Alagiri hides his face whenever he sees a press photographer. A Kalaignar TV (owned by Karunanidhi) crew is following him around but he refuses to respond to them.

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Image: DMK stalwart MK Stalin
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar

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The ruling party has always won the bye-elections

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Alagiri is lying low but most observers and veterans of Tamil Nadu politics believe that he will become hyperactive on the night of March 16 when the canvassing ends, and vigilance is not at its best. They claim that the 'Thirumangalam formula' will be tried here as well.

With the now-estranged Vijayakanth working against the AIADMK, the party may lose its voter base. This will give the DMK a clear advantage, as it tries to win the first bye-election in the state since last year's elections.

It has been the norm in Tamil Nadu for the ruling party to win the bye-elections. But this time, it seems that the AIADMK has decided to lose by increasing milk prices, bus fares (which have doubled) and power tariff.

And the nine-hour power cuts in rural Tamil Nadu (which have already earned them brickbats from the Opposition), are certainly not going to help them get votes.


Image: Alagiri with supporters in this dated picture


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