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February 20, 1998


Constituency Profile/Sivaganga, Tamil Nadu

Of neglect, caste and a world famous finance minister

Ganesh Nadar

On the pleas of the ancient saints, the heavenly Ganga descended reluctantly to Earth. She come with a fury that would have destroyed the Earth. To save the Earth, Lord Siva broke her fall and kept her in his locks. From there she descended gently. Thus the name Siva-Ganga. The name does not suit this place. The place looks parched, despite the record rains last year. It does not look like a finance minister's constituency.

The assembly constituencies that make up the constituency are Ilaiyangudi, Karaikudi, Sivangangai, Tirumayam, Tirupattur and Tiruvadanai.

There are almost 1.1 million voters, with women as usual outnumbering the men.

Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram of the Tamil Maanila Congress has won continuously since 1984. A local AIADMK man, Muthusamy Bharathi, dismisses the wins: "From 1984 to 1991, he won with an AIADMK alliance, and in 1996, with a DMK alliance -- he doesn't have his own base."

From Madurai, it's an hour by bus to Sivaganga. While other buses leaving Madurai are crowded, the bus to Sivaganga had only 17 people.

Sivaganga is a large town. The bus stop is drowned in a cacophony of sound. The TMC-DMK combine are playing a cassette from inside a broken down autorickshaw. Cone speakers, which I thought were banned, were pointing in all directions. After listing the number of sarees JJ (AIADMK leader J Jayalalitha) has, they started belting out Rajnikanth songs. An AIADMK van arrived on the spot. It was playing songs from an MGR-JJ starrer.

A walk down the main road -- a life size statue of MGR which has a lot of garlands, thanks to the election. An MGR statue is par for the course in Tamil Nadu, but the next one is unusual. A life size statue of Netaji, followed by another huge statue of Rani Nachiyar (1730 to 1796). A plaque tells you that the rani battled the British a hundred years before the Rani of Jhansi. Twice she vanquished the British: once in the company of Tipu Sultan of Mysore and once all by herself.

JJ had come a day earlier and the crowds were more than when she was chief minister, a bystander said. In 1996, JJ was coldshouldered thanks to a fierce anti-corruption wave.

Not only in Sivaganga but elsewhere too, JJ repeatedly attacked Chidambaram. She accuses him of being hand in glove with multinationals. She holds him responsible for the Indian Bank and Fairgrowth scams.

Among the various candidates in the contest, the important ones apart from Chidambaram are AIADMK candidate K Kalimuthu and the Congress's Gowrishankaran.

With the AIADMK's help, Gowrishankaran polled 171,000 votes in 1996. This time around, he will poll much less. Gowrishankaran knows he cannot win. A whispering campaign is on that Gowrishankaran is saying 'Vote for me or Vote for Kalimuthu, who is a Thevar like me; don't vote for Chidambaram.' Looks like the Congress has still not forgiven Chidambaram for defecting to the TMC.

DMK Minister Thamizhkudimagan and ex-AIADMK minister Kannappan have their own bloc of votes here. Both belong to the Konar caste. No one knows how these two will influence the votes. The diktat hasn't arrived, one voter confided. Whether these ministers will take a decision based on their party or caste affiliations remains to be seen. With just a couple of days for pollday, the ministers haven't yet arrived on the scene. They decided 10 per cent of the votes.

The Muthurayans and scheduled castes number 15 per cent of the votes. They will listen to the dominant Thevars.

Chidambaram is said to have over 100,000 postal votes already in his kitty.

The AIADMK office in Sivaganga reacted immediately to the Coimbatore blasts. On the night of February 14th itself, they printed posters with Advani's photo. The posters say, 'Don't vote for the combine that plotted to kill Advani.'

Chidambaram hasn't done anything for this constituency through he has been promising a harbour at Thondi and implementation of the Sethusamudram project since 1984. The graphite industry he started fell flat as the graphite is not fit for export.

Shakti Sugars has a plant here. Both Chidambaram and the AIADMK's Kannappan take credit for it.

While one voter complained that Chidambaram does not have time for the constituency, another defends him: "The finance minister has to look after the whole country."

All in all, Chidambaram will win. The villagers are proud of their world famous minister.

Chidambaram working on the numbers
Chidambaram is a man driven
'Politics has broken up statewise'

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