Tamil vs Thamizh in spirited south Chennai fight

In this electoral battle, BJP’s jibe of DMK being a dynastic party finds hardly any buyer as all three key candidates hail from political families.
Tamil vs Thamizh in spirited south Chennai fight
Illustration: Mandar Pardikar

CHENNAI : On March 20, Tamilisai Soundararajan entered the state headquarters of the BJP, Kamalalayam, after a gap of nearly five years, to rejoin the party. After collecting her membership card, she said in her booming voice, “Tamizhagathil Thamarai Malarum, Malarndhe Theerum” (Lotus will bloom in Tamil Nadu, it will inevitably bloom), revitalising a catchphrase she popularised when she was the party’s state president from 2014 to 2019.

However, the bloom is yet to happen. Tamil Nadu has eluded the BJP so far with the party winning only eight MP seats out of the 105 Lok Sabha contests since 1984. Seven of these victories were thanks to its alliance with either the AIADMK or the DMK.

Two days before she rejoined the party, Tamilisai resigned as the Governor of Telangana and Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, a move that surprised many and signalled the BJP’s intentions to field its heavyweights in key constituencies to turn the tide in this Lok Sabha election.

Despite losing the AIADMK from its alliance, the BJP is hopeful of significantly increasing its vote share, owing to the growth the party believes it has achieved in the Dravidian land in recent years.

The saffron party is banking on Tamilisai’s relative popularity and down-to-earth personality besides a significant presence of Brahmins and an upwardly-mobile population to shake up Chennai South, which has predominantly favoured the DMK.

Her primary battle is against DMK’s incumbent MP and poet Thamizhachi Thangapandian. If Tamilisai translates to Tamil music, Thamizhachi means Tamil woman. Prior to kick-starting a fierce battle on the ground, Tamilisai and Thamizhachi shared a moment of camaraderie when they hugged each other after filing nomination papers around the same time on the same day. The campaign has since heated up.

The DMK is making full use of its organisational strength to canvas votes. Tamilisai is compensating for the lack of an equivalent organisational capacity through an enthusiastic door-to-door campaign and personal interactions with the voters in a bid to endear herself as their Akka (sister). Her campaign’s tagline is Akka vanthachu (sister has come).

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This puts Thamizhachi at a bit of a disadvantage as a fracture in her leg has forced her to campaign only from her vehicle. Moreover, she faces anti-incumbency from among a section of voters, especially due to her alleged inadequate presence in the field during the Chennai floods in December.

However, the Tamil Nadu ruling party’s campaign shows no lack of confidence and appears to be enthusiastic in the constituency. Meticulous planning and sizable crowds are on display at Thamizhachi’s campaign stops, aided by local strongman and minister Ma Subramanian and all of the DMK’s alliance partners.

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Thamizhachi remains confident that Tamilisai’s candidacy hasn’t made the going tough for her. “I don’t think her contesting in the seat has heated up the race. In our campaign, we can see people elated by the DMK government. We will win by a big margin,” she told this newspaper. Apart from its traditional vote bank, especially among the working class population, the DMK derives its confidence from the tri-cornered nature of the contest, expected to result in a split of opposition votes in its favour.

The third key party in the race is AIADMK, which had won the constituency thrice in the past. The principal opposition party in Tamil Nadu has fielded J Jayavardhan, who won here in 2014 but lost to Thamizhachi in 2019. Jayavardhan is relying on his track record as an MP and on having stayed in touch with the people even when he was not in power.

Interestingly, in this electoral battle, BJP’s jibe of DMK being a dynastic party finds little purchase as all three key candidates hail from political families. Tamilisai is the daughter of veteran Congress leader Kumari Anandan.

Thamizhachi is the daughter of V Thangapandian, who was former revenue minister in the DMK government, and the sister of present finance minister Thangam Thennarasu. Jayavardhan is the son of AIADMK’s prominent leader from Chennai and former minister D Jayakumar.

The two Dravidian majors are framing this as a contest between themselves and they may be right. The BJP has contested in this constituency five times and lost its deposit thrice. The closest it came to a victory was when Jana Krishnamurthi, who later became BJP president, contested in 1998 as part of the AIADMK alliance and came runner-up by securing 45.9% votes.

The second closest was when former BJP state president and present Nagaland Governor La Ganesan secured 24.1% votes in 2014 without the support of the two Dravidian majors, but aided by a few other regional parties in a multi-cornered contest and the huge anti-incumbency against Congress and DMK. Still, he came third.

For Tamilisai, the drubbing she was handed by Kanimozhi Karunanidhi of DMK in the Thoothukudi constituency in 2019 is a thing of the past. After the time spent in Puducherry as L-G, she is determined to win this election. “I have been a voter of this constituency for 40 years now. I don’t think this constituency is a fort of DMK. We are receiving a good response from the people. We will create history by breaking into this supposed fort,” she told this newspaper.

She is hopeful of joining the star-studded list of past winners from the constituency, which includes DMK founder C N Annadurai, Congress leader T T Krishnamachari, former President R Venkatraman, former minister Murasoli Maran and actor and dancer Vyjayanthimala Bali.

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