Huffing and puffing, who will breast the tape in TN?

N Ramakrishnan Chennai | Updated on January 20, 2018




A mother and her child at an AIADMK election rally BIJOY GHOSH

Traditional loyalties aside, the electorate is divided along the lines of gender and caste

It has been a long, hard no-holds barred campaign in Tamil Nadu for the May 16 election, one that will end on Saturday evening.

At stake are 234 seats and battling it out are 3,776 candidates, including 320 women. It is a multi-cornered contest, which makes it all the more interesting.

The campaign has been marked by charges and counter-charges, accusations and counters, promises made, assurances given, manifestos that have promised everything short of the moon. The dominant topics of the campaign have been prohibition and freebies, law and order, jobs and welfare schemes. Significantly, each of the parties or fronts has accused the others of corruption and promised a clean government.

A whirlwind three-and-a-half-day drive through a few districts of the State gave one an idea of the support base that each party enjoys.

Who turns up for who

At AIADMK meetings, women — elderly women at that — outnumber men. At one such roadside meeting in Bodinayakanur constituency, from where Finance Minister O Panneerselvam, who was twice stand-in Chief Minister for his party supremo J Jayalalithaa, elderly women were in a clear majority. One of them even said she has been voting for ‘puratchi thailavar’ – revolutionary leader – as the AIADMK party founder and late Chief Minister MG Ramachandran was known. She will continue to do so.

At DMK meetings, especially those addressed by party Treasurer MK Stalin, it is men in their 40s and 50s — nearly all are committed DMK supporters — who come to hear their leaders speak.

At a few PMK meetings, the crowd consisted of mostly boisterous twenty-something youth, loudly cheering the party’s chief ministerial candidate Anbumani Ramadoss, who engages them in an easy conversation-like speech.

The People’s Welfare Front meetings are attended by, again mostly men in their 30s and 40s. They are committed party supporters, given that the front is made up of Vijayakant’s DMDK, Vaiko’s MDMK, the two Communist parties, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal and the Tamil Manila Congress.

What gets paid

The money paid to bring in the crowd for the roadside meetings is substantially lower than in earlier elections. It ranges from ₹100 to ₹200, compared to the ₹500 and a packet of biriyani that was on offer earlier.

The leaders themselves shuttle between meeting venues, often speeding at breakneck speed in their SUVs, or in specially designed buses or, in the case of Jayalalithaa, by helicopter.

Catching attention

Stalin and Ramadoss stood out for their attire. Stalin gave up the trademark white-shirt-and-dhoti for trousers and colourful shirts, or even T-shirts, while Ramadoss was attired in trousers and shirt all through.

Some pluses, some flaws

Talking at random to the residents in villages, one got the impression that they felt some of the schemes the AIADMK government implemented did benefit them. By and large, there was an end to rowdyism in the last five years, especially in Madurai.

But, the voters say, this may not be enough. The rural sector had been neglected; Chief Minister Jayalalithaa was rarely seen in public and jobs were not being generated.

Dakshinamoorthy, a farmer in Villupuram constituency, felt the AIADMK had neglected agriculture. The DMK, he said, had promised in its manifesto a minimum support price for sugarcane, something the AIADMK had failed to. The farm sector had suffered in the last two years, with poor harvest and sugar mills not paying on time, he added.

Caste, a wide net

People would also, largely, prefer to vote along caste and community lines. And the choice was either the AIADMK or the DMK.

For instance, in Vanniar-majority Villupuram constituency, the DMK has given the seat to the Muslim League, whereas the other candidates are from the Vanniar community.

Sreenivasan, a shop owner in one of the localities, felt the DMK had made a poor choice.

Subash, an auto driver in Madurai and a long-time DMK supporter, said he would vote for the party as always, irrespective of the candidate, but his wife would vote for the AIADMK. Isn’t there any fight at home over the political allegiance, you ask him. Not at all; most women prefer to vote for the AIADMK ever since MGR’s time, he adds. He would not hazard a guess on why this is so, but accepts it as reality. There may be inter-mingling of castes in society in everyday life, but on voting day, people prefer to back their community candidate, he added.


Right through the drive, the police presence was quite visible. In fact, at almost all roadside meetings, an Election Commission vehicle would be parked. There was extensive checking of vehicles – we were stopped on more than one occasion by Central police forces and the car inspected despite our affirmations of being from the media. No wonder then that the Election Commission has seized a record ₹100 crore in cash this time.

But, Manikandan, a dairy farmer in Sadayalpatti village in Bodinayakanur constituency, wondered why no MLA’s vehicle is checked. You remind him that cash has been seized from actor-turned-politician Sarathkumar’s car – an MLA now, he is contesting on the AIADMK symbol – and Manikandan replied that it was a one-off instance.

Amma versus DMK

The battle is clearly between the ruling AIADMK, with Chief Minister and party General Secretary Jayalalithaa being its star campaigner, and the DMK-Congress alliance.

Unlike the AIADMK, the DMK has an array of campaigners, each seasoned in public speaking. Its nonagenarian President M Karunanidhi, who hopes to be Chief Minister once again, shortened his campaign schedule and left it to his son Stalin to do the rest.

The AIADMK has had a head-start as far as finalising candidates were concerned, or in kicking off the campaign. This, however, does not necessarily mean it will be the first past the post. Await May 19.

Published on May 13, 2016

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