Chennai: The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) list of candidates and constituencies surprised voters when it was released in March: chief minister M. Karunanidhi, his son and deputy chief minister M.K. Stalin and the party’s general secretary and state finance minister K. Anbazhagan had moved away from constituencies in the city’s central business district to the suburbs or other parts of the state.
Stalin’s move from the Thousand Lights constituency to suburb Kolathur, Karunanidhi’s from Chepauk to Thiruvarur in the southern part of the state, and Anbazhagan’s from Harbour to Purasawalkam seem to have come about because of delimitation, which has redrawn the boundaries of several urban constituencies; and dereservation, which has opened the doors for politicians to contest from seats once set aside for candidates from the scheduled castes.
While analysts don’t see anything unusual in the moves, voters are understandably upset.
A.S. Panneerselvan, who heads the Panos Institute for South Asia in Chennai, said it is normal for senior leaders to change constituencies once in three elections. He rattles off all the constituencies Karunanidhi has represented: Kulithalai in 1962, Thanjavur, Saidapet, Anna Nagar, Harbour and Chepauk.
“Senior leaders nurture their constituencies for a term or two and then transfer it to other candidates. The leaders are after all more than just members of the legislative assembly. They have bigger responsibilities and people are clever enough to understand that,” Panneerselvan says.
The voters don’t like it though.
“We do wish Thalapathi Stalin was contesting from here. We do wish they had not played a cheap trick on us by allotting the constituency to an unknown man with a Muslim name just to garner the so-called Muslim votes in this area,” says Madurai, who gave only one name, and who works as a watchman in Thousand Lights. “But who can control the finger once it decides to vote for DMK at the polling booth,” he adds, advocating a theory that voters in the constituency cannot and will not look beyond DMK.
But conspiracy theories abound.
“The logic behind the move has to be fear of a backlash on the 2G spectrum scandal from the most urbanized part of the city or even the state. Moreover, after delimitation, Thousand Lights includes parts of Mylapore, which is definitely not the DMK’s stronghold,” says a political analyst, who does not want to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media by his organization.
There are no such theories about Karunanidhi’s move, which would appear to be driven by sentiment.
Yet his move may have given loyal DMK supporters cause to look beyond the party.
E. Raj Kumar, who has always voted for the DMK, is impressed with the candidate that the opposition has fielded—Tamimun Anzari of the Muslim Manithaneya Makkal Katchi: “He is young and promises transparent governance. Since we won’t be getting favours from the bureaucracy for being the chief minister’s constituency any more, we might as well vote for the young and ideological candidate.”
That kind of talk wouldn’t have been heard if Karunanidhi had decided to stick with his constituency, says Chandrasekhar M., a fruit and vegetable wholesaler in Chepauk. “This time, there is food for thought.”