Just that the general secretary of the ruling AIADMK, J Jayalalithaa, is contesting from RK Nagar in north Chennai is enough to draw attention to it.
Adding to the curiosity value, taking on this veteran who has led the AIADMK to power three times in the State are Vasanthi Devi, an academician, education activist and former Vice-Chancellor of the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University and education activist; and Shimla Muthuchozhan, an advocate. While Vasanthi is a VCK candidate representing the DMDK-PWF combine, Shimla is part of the DMK.
The constituency is for the most part a city slum, home to daily wage labourers, fishermen, launderers (RK Nagar includes Washermanpet, with five dhobi khanas ) and blue-collar workers, apart from small businessmen.
Basic necessities are wanting and sanitation is a major issue in the area.
Cholera Hospital “It is not without reason that the city’s earliest communicable diseases hospital, popularly called ‘Cholera Hospital’ is located here,” says Senthil, a DMDK member. Between 1977 and 1989, the voters were with the DMK and from 2006, the AIADMK. In the intervening period the Congress was also been picked to represent them.
This north Chennai constituency hit the limelight in June 2015, when Jayalalithaa was reinstated as Chief Minister after winning a by-election here following her acquittal on appeal in a disproportionate assets case.
Since then this area has received a bit of a facelift with main roads black-topped, some concrete roads laid and water supply improved.
In addition, Amma Canteens selling subsidised food have been opened and two flyover projects announced in the past six months.
Rival camps DMK candidate Muthuchozhan is the daughter-in-law of SP Sarguna Pandian, Deputy General Secretary of the DMK, and a two-time MLA from RK Nagar. The other contestant is P Agnes of the PMK.
Muthuchozhan says she has worked closely with the community over the past 10 years, running medical camps, providing legal consultation and interacting regularly with residents. She campaigns door-to-door and “my focus is to improve the residents’ quality of life,” she says.
On Friday, Vasanthi, unlike most politicians who arrive in SUVs or plush campaign vans, lands in a cab. At Nagoorar Thottam, criss-crossed by lanes that can barely accommodate a car, women gather around her, and she starts her talk with prohibition.
Tale of woe Mani Mozhi, a slum dweller, narrates her tale of woe caused by her husband’s drinking problem. “Do your children go to school, do youngsters get work, how do you manage…” Vasanthi asks her audience. She cautions them against accepting cash for votes and asks them to vote responsibly for a good government.
While the AIADMK’s presence is felt substantially — through flag posts and shops sporting the two-leaves and party flags — the other party signatures are hardly noticeable. Leaders like B Valarmathi have begun campaigning by catching up with people in parks early in the morning to gather votes and offering special prayers in temples.
Meanwhile, the voters’ complaints continue. Says homemaker Kanagavalli Selvam: “A drainage line is present but not maintained, so sewage mixes with drinking water. It also becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes.” “If Amma comes to power again, the projects to address the issues will take off,” says a hopeful RK Rajendiran, a rickshaw driver in the area.