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Despite the odds stacked up against him, her father's AIADMK rival is confident about causing an upset in the DMK chief's hometown. Saisuresh Sivaswamy reports.
"Aiyyo paavam, sogusu amma (poor thing, she's a woman of luxury), look at how she is toiling in the heat and dust for her father."
The statement, from a member of the throngs watching Selvi, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's daughter working the voters at Athikadai near Mannargudi, sums up the image perfectly. We are in the innards of Thiruvarur, birthplace to the venerated trinity of Carnatic music, saint-composer Thyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshithar and Syama Sastry.
Clearly, Selvi, born with more than a golden spoon in her mouth and married into a family with comparable affluence (her husband is Murasoli Selvam of Udaya TV), is clearly not born to the manner of the politician.
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And what an attention it is. As Karunanidhi is engaged in a clearly do-or-die battle to retain power an unprecedented sixth time, Thiruvarur, the constituency in the lush Thanjavur granary belt, has been entrusted to his daughters to nurture. Sons M K Stalin and M K Azhagiri have their own battles to fight elsewhere.
So Selvi has been hitting the semi-rural constituency every day, morning and evening. There are carbine-wielding securitymen keeping anyone from getting too close, permission to be there has been granted on the strict condition that 'no questions please', and the party cadre is in strength. It can get tiring, as it did towards the evening on Wednesday, but Appa needs her.
Selvi is more at home as she walks through the narrow, squalid mohalla. Muslims have always stood by her father, and there is no reason to believe they have abandoned him now. She makes it a point to greet the women, hiding shyly behind the door and often in a veil, be playful with the children, and tell the men to remember Appa. And in one place sharing tiffin with the conservative family.
"Only Friday Jumma is important," a man in a lungi tells me when asked if Selvi has chosen the wrong time to seek votes.
Sampath, one of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam functionaries accompanying her, says Selvi makes it a point to ask the voters about their problems and tries to offer solutions instantly. "From providing medical attention to asking why children are not in school and paying for their education, she has been doing it."
K M Rajendran, the All India Anna DMK's candidate for the prestigious seat, thinks the Kalaignar (scholar, as Karunanidhi is known) packs no punch. "He is a sundakka (roughly, small fry)," he crows to me as he rests a while in a loyalist's home before hitting the rigorous campaign trail. "I am not contesting against the chief minister," he tells the people, "but against a candidate."
Opinion polls predicting a clean sweep for the rival AIADMK-led front are just that, opinion, he says. Earlier too, the DMK had been written off, but the party proved the sceptics wrong, as it will do now.
Neither Baalu nor the DMK's T M Selvaganapathy has much to say, making one wonder if it was worry at a possible negative feedback or the attention that the seizures of crores of rupees across the state -- whispered to flow from the DMK -- has garnered. Wherever I go, that's the talk of the town.
"Why can't they just distribute the money to the poor and be done with it?" is a question that is constantly asked, and in the people's mind there's no doubt where it has come from. The mind-boggling figures thrown up in the recent spate of scams.
Born in nearby Thirukuvalai, this town is where he cut his political teeth decades ago. All along he wanted to return here, his supporters say, and it was the recent dereservation from a Scheduled Caste constituency that made it possible.
Thiruvarur, of course, has a resonance in Tamil Nadu that goes deep beyond this association. Part of the great Chola kingdom, the town is dotted with temples that makes the self-proclaimed rationalist's nomination from here raise eyebrows.
Perhaps there is a message in it for the sceptics -- not all of them the non-religious kind.