Poll date: 24 April
Key candidates: Dayanidhi Maran, DMK I SR Vijayakumar, AIADMK I J Prabhakar, AAP
Chennai’s streets are busy as usual but the fervour that was evident during assembly elections is missing—there are no political songs blaring from speakers, and the walls are generally free of symbols and posters.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is the only party which launched its state-wide campaign from Chennai, and it chose Chintadripet. The party stronghold is in Muslim-dominated Triplicane, which is one of six areas—the others being Villivakkam, Harbour, Egmore, Thousand Lights and Anna Nagar—in Central Chennai, the constituency represented by the party’s Dayanidhi Maran.
Central Chennai has 17,14,987 registered voters. The Maran family has held this constituency since 1996—initially Murasoli Maran, and after his death, his son Dayanidhi.
At the start of the campaign on 26 March, posters of DMK president M. Karunanidhi and his younger son Stalin, and the party’s red and black flags, had been put up every 100m. Images of Maran, the DMK’s Central Chennai candidate who has won twice from this constituency, were few—indication, if any was needed, that the 89-year-old DMK patriarch still calls the shots.
The 48-year-old MP, who had yet to file his nomination papers at the time, said this was the same place from where Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) had started the election campaign for his father in 1996. “I have become a Union minister; it is because of you that the DMK won all the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu in 2004,” he told the crowd.
A. Tajuddin, 62, who lives in Triplicane, says: “Central Chennai is a stronghold of the DMK. We are yet to see other candidates canvassing for votes in this area.” Tajuddin, who has a bag shop on Triplicane High Road, points out that the AIADMK candidate S.R. Vijayakumar is a relatively new face.
That, obviously, is not a deterrent for others. “We are positive that AIADMK’s Vijayakumar will win,” says A. Tamilmahan Hussain, chairman of the Tamil Nadu Wakf Board and secretary of the AIADMK’s Kanyakumari district unit, as he walks out of the Big Mosque in Triplicane after Friday prayers. Hussain believes that even a lesser-known AIADMK candidate will win this time because people will vote for “Amma”—as chief minister Jayalalithaa is referred to—who has launched welfare schemes for the poor: For instance, the Amma Canteen, which offers idlis at Rs.1, is popular.
“My vote is for the AIADMK,” adds Lognathan N., who runs a cycle shop in Anna Nagar. He believes that Vijayakumar, a lawyer, has a better chance of winning because “the AIADMK has supported people like me. Besides, I will vote for any candidate that the AIADMK fields to teach that corrupt Maran a lesson,” says the 32-year-old.
Cho Ramaswamy, a political commentator and editor of the weekly Tamil news magazine Thuglak, too believes that Maran will find it difficult, but not impossible.
The Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), which has fielded J.K. Raveendran and is partnering with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, may eat into vote share—as it did in 2009, without winning any seats. “The fledging DMDK looked like an alternative to the corrupt AIADMK and DMK but we as a family may not vote for it as it has lost its secular tag when it tied up with the BJP recently,” says Tajuddin.
“Central Chennai is a strong bastion of the DMK, that’s why we have chosen J. Prabhakar to give Maran tough competition,” says Gnani Sankaran, a political commentator who recently joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). J. Prabhakar, a social activist, started his campaign on 1 April.
T.V. Swetha, a mass communications student at Madras Christian College who will be voting for the first time, says she and her friends have decided to vote for AAP. “Maran is tainted with the 2G scam. It is not about Arvind Kerjiwal but the individual candidates of AAP have a better track (record) than the seasoned political candidates. They will certainly bring a change.”
In Tamil Nadu, leaders of Dravidian parties tend to have a larger-than-life image owing to their film industry connections. Jayalalithaa was a popular actor in Tamil films; the AIADMK founder and late chief minister, M.G Ramachandran, was a matinee idol; and Karunanidhi was a screenwriter.
Even in election campaigns, individual candidates have a smaller role to play, with votes being garnered for “DMK’s rising sun” or “for Amma”. AAP, it seems, may change this in a small way by shifting the focus to the candidate.