Central Chennai seat may retain ‘DMK bastion’ tag

More multi-level parking & better roads to reduce traffic congestion, permanent solution to prevent flooding are major demands of residents
With the dominance of the working-class in the north and the upwardly mobile in the south, the constituency looks like a curious microcosm of Indian society.
With the dominance of the working-class in the north and the upwardly mobile in the south, the constituency looks like a curious microcosm of Indian society.Photo | P ravikumar

CHENNAI: At 7.30am, much before the scorching sun turns unkind, Dayanidhi Maran’s campaign cavalcade enters a nearly deserted bylane of Anna Nagar. There is enough din to draw the unsuspecting crowds. The DMK bastion where the party won in eight out of the 12 Lok Sabha elections since 1977, however, looks quiet on the surface, barely revealing what is simmering beneath.

Like Maran, most of the 31 candidates in the fray, including 20 independents, are all out in the morning elsewhere, busy campaigning. Surprisingly, there is no woman candidate there.

With the dominance of the working-class in the north and the upwardly mobile in the south, the economically heterogeneous electorate of the constituency looks like a curious microcosm of Indian society. What makes it diverse is the sizable population of Muslims and Scheduled Castes, concentrated in the assembly segments of Chepauk-Thiruvallikeni and Egmore (SC), respectively.

The constituency has particularly been associated with the family of DMK’s late union minister Murasoli Maran. Barring 2014 when AIADMK swept the polls due to anti-incumbency, DMK has won all the elections here since 1996 — the first three by Murasoli Maran and another three by his son Dayanidhi. Even in 2014, Dayanidhi managed to accumulate 36.25% of votes against AIADMK’s SR Vijayakumar, who won the seat with a vote share of 42.03%.

With AIADMK ceding the constituency to its ally DMDK, the BJP is striving to be the principal contender against DMK this time. While DMDK has fielded former MLA K Parathasarathy, BJP’s candidate is its former youth wing president Vinoj P Selvam who had contested from the Harbour assembly constituency in 2021 and lost. Naam Tamilar Katchi has fielded R Karthikeyan, a dentist, who had contested in 2019 as well and secured 3.95% of votes.

A combination of national and local issues dominate the election campaign this time. The DMK is highlighting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act to accuse the BJP of being divisive and is also blaming the AIADMK for its support to pass the Act.

Civic issues being a key concern in all six assembly segments, — Villivakkam, Anna Nagar, Egmore (SC), Harbour, Chepauk- Triplicane and Thousand Lights — the performance of sitting MLAs and corporation councillors could play a role in voters’ final decision.

TNIE spoke to voters from all six segments to understand their perspective and demands for this election.

While the incumbent, Dayanidhi Maran, remains the most recognisable candidate, a section of voters from Villivakkam and Anna Nagar opined that they hadn’t seen the MP much in the last five years. “He has rarely visited our area. After the Assembly election in 2021, we are only now getting to see him,” said Narayanan, a resident of Villivakkam.

Chennai Central has some of the most heavily congested areas of the city with narrow streets. “Areas like Broadway and Mannadi are commercial hubs and we have hardly seen any transformation here. We need more multilevel parking to reduce congestion in these streets,” said Anwar S, a shop owner from Mannadi. Vendors in Triplicane, another congested locality, shared similar demands.

Expressing concern that traffic in many parts of the constituency has worsened, Jose Benjamin, a resident of Kilpauk, said Chennai Metro has not reduced the traffic on roads as they had hoped.

Many residents have still not recovered from the impact of the 2023 floods. “Despite large-scale storm water drain works, Chennai was heavily flooded. Candidates should focus on this and come up with a permanent solution,” said J Prasanth, a resident of Anna Nagar.

While the BJP, in its campaigns, is attacking the DMK-led state government’s failure to mitigate floods, DMK is retaliating by raising the issue of poor fund allocation from the centre. DMK’s campaigns are largely focused on the state government’s welfare schemes and the past tenures of Dayanidhi Maran as a union minister.

“Despite spending thousands of crores of rupees, the DMK government has turned Singara Chennai into a sinking Chennai,” charged BJP state president K Annamalai during his campaign in the constituency.

“While the prime minister came to the state multiple times for poll campaigns, he didn’t visit TN during or after the floods. While the DMK government provided Rs 6,000 to each family, the central government didn’t even give a single penny. We (DMK) were with the people during the pandemic and the floods,” claimed Dayanidhi Maran during a campaign.

BJP candidate Vinoj said, “BJP is the real opposition in the state. The Dravidian parties cannot campaign without speaking about us. It is a testimony to our growth in the state.”

DMDK candidate Parthasarathy said this election is a referendum on the three years of DMK rule. “The DMK government has failed the people of the state by raising property taxes and electricity tariff. They have also failed on the law and order front,” he added.

Recalling the AIADMK and DMDK’s alliance in the 2011 Assembly election that resulted in a resounding victory across the state, he said, “AIADMK and DMDK are natural allies. We won in 2011 due to the anti-people policies of the then DMK government. People are dissatisfied now as well and hence we will mark a comfortable victory,” said Parthasarathy.

Yet Dayanidhi still has a visible edge over his opponents, mainly due to a strong consolidation of pro-DMK votes with a broad coalition -- including MNM which garnered 12% votes here in 2019 -- and a split in the anti-DMK votes as a result of the fragmented opposition. It is also to the DMK’s advantage that the AIADMK is not directly contesting here.

DMK’s Thousand Lights MLA N Ezhilan, who is involved in the campaign works said, “DMK is always strong in this constituency. This time it’s going to be a cake walk for us.”

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