What’s in it for us, Bodi’s commoners ask

N Ramakrishnan Bodinayakanur | Updated on January 20, 2018

Tamil Nadu Finance Minister and AIADMK leader O Panneerselvamcampaigning in his Bodinayakanur constituency on Monday. He takes onthe DMK's S Lakshmanan - Photo: BIJOY GHOSH

The man on the street feels elections do little for him; the grind only gets tougher

Chandra, a daily-wage labourer, sums it up best when she says, “How does it matter who wins from here? We have to carry on doing the same thing to light up the stove in our house.”

From 8 am till 2 pm she works in a field or the many farms here at Sadayalpatti village in Bodinayakanur constituency of Theni district. She takes home ₹120 a day for this work. If she toils till 4 pm, she earns ₹200.

Her task is to remove weeds among the paddy or the maize crop. It is tough, back-breaking work in the hot sun, she adds.

You probe her on whom she will vote for, and Chandra is smart enough to answer: “Isn’t that supposed to be kept a secret?” Whom did she vote for in previous elections, you persist. Sometimes for the DMK and on others for the AIADMK, is all that she says.

Durairaj is a a textile mill worker in Bodi – as Bodinayakanur is commonly referred to. He is not so circumspect, though. He pauses while smoking a bidi and spreads his fingers out so that they resemble a rising sun – the DMK’s symbol – gesturing where his loyalties lie.

O Panneerselvam, Finance Minister in the current government and who stood in for Jayalalithaa as Chief Minister when she had to step down, is the AIADMK’s candidate here. His opponent is the DMK’s S Lakshmanan. In the 2011 elections, Panneerselvam defeated Lakshmanan by 29,906 votes. He hopes to repeat the feat this time.

Support for DMK

When you point out to Durairaj that Panneerselvam has a chance of becoming a minister if the AIADMK retains power, he says it doesn’t matter. He has always voted for the DMK and Lakshmanan is a local candidate. He is always on call. Don’t be fooled by the crowd you see at the AIADMK meetings, he cautions, they are all stage-managed.

Earlier in the day, we had driven to Periyakulam to see if we could catch up with Panneerselvam before he steps out for campaigning. It is a little after 12 pm and we are directed to a nondescript house. You would have missed it but for the two leaves (the AIADMK symbol) on the iron gates. The two-time Chief Minister is not home and a couple of party volunteers tell you that he will begin his campaign in the afternoon at Palanichettipatti in Bodi. It is about 4.15 pm and there is excitement in the small crowd that has gathered at Jawahar Nagar. Crackers are burst and Panneerselvam, standing atop an open utility vehicle, greets the voters with folded hands. Sacred ash and vermillion are smeared on his forehead.

Panneer’s no ‘outsider’

He lists out the various welfare schemes the Jayalalithaa government had implemented over the last five years and asks for their mandate for another term. He says schemes of ₹850 crore have come to the constituency in the last five years, including an engineering college.

A few elderly women in the gathering murmur that they have not got anything, especially the free goats that were given to poor families. They are quickly silenced by a party worker.

A group of men in Sadayalpatti village admit that the engineering college has been a big boon for Bodi.

Manikandan, a dairy farmer, feels Panneerselvam’s chances of re-election are bright; that he is not a local candidate is not an issue for him. But there is substantial support for DMK’s Lakshmanan too, he says. The DMK, he says, works really hard at the ground level.

Raju, a retired policeman who is and now into maize cultivation, adds that Panneerselvam has a decent image.

Chinnasamy, also in Sadayalpatti village, pauses between chopping dried palm fronds, and says he has not benefitted because Panneerselvam was a senior minister. He points to his thatched hut as proof. Lakshmanan, he says, comes for any event “whenever we call him”.

You approach a middle-aged on the main road in Bodi, even as he changes his truck’s tyre. Who will win in the constituency? A shrug of the shoulders. “My life is not going to change one bit. I have to toil every day,” he says, hardly taking a break from his chore.

Elsewhere, one is told that the ruling AIADMK has a lot more money. Wait for election eve, when all the money will be handed over to the voters. That may alter the outcome.

Published on May 09, 2016

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