When Velusamy, a rickshaw-puller near the Tarapore towers on Anna Salai, stopped by the Thanneer Pandal put up by a political party, all he hoped for was a glass of cool water or butter milk. But he got more than he bargained for.
This has been the 64-year-old’s routine for decades now. Every summer without exception, political parties issue orders to their workers to set up these pandals to provide refreshment to the public. All that the pandal used to have was a banner of the party’s leader and pots filled with water or watery buttermilk.
But this year seems to be a tad different. “They gave out pamphlets outlining the party’s objectives. There was also a person who elaborated on what was happening on the political scene,” says Velusamy emerging from a DMDK’s tent.
In perhaps a significant shift, the pandals that were supposed to be the mark of ‘social service’ that political parties undertake have been transformed into propaganda platforms. And the upcoming Lok Sabha elections seem to be the significant reason.
When City Express visited a pandal put up by the DMK near Kilpauk, an ‘agent’ distributed bit notices hailing party chief M Karunanidhi for the recent pullout from the UPA.
This was the same case at pandals put up by the PMK and other major political parties.
Party insiders say that with the Lok Sabha elections just a year away, most of the outfits are trying to leverage any opportunity they get to connect with the people. A DMDK MLA, on condition of anonymity, says such pandals are a wonderful place to get a sense of people’s opinion. “Only the ordinary folk make use of this pandal. When you chat with them here, you understand the issues that they are worried about,” he says.
Though dismissing any selfish intentions behind establishing these pandals, a DMK Corporation Councillor says they could help expand the party at the grassroot level. “I have seen people join the party impressed by such kind of service. It helps to register the presence of the party at the local level,” he points out.
Also the pandals, mostly sponsored by lower-rung leaders, help garner popularity for the individual. “If you look at the design, you will see local secretaries and other workers’ name put up prominently. If you see one face in too many of these pandals in your area, rest assured he is aiming for a seat in the elections,” quipped the DMK leader.
In addition, smaller parties seem to choose specific places where they could connect with their voter base to put up the pandals. For example, Left parties and unions seem to concentrate on industrial areas where the tents become places for conversations.
However, some have reservations about using the pandals for political purposes.
“When parties ask workers to provide such facilities, the leaders only have service in their mind. If people use these for campaigning, it is very wrong,” says Palanimuthu of the VCK, which has several such pandals in Central Chennai.