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The Vaigai riverbed, like the parched mouth of Madurai, lies agape and naked in the hot sun. You can’t miss it when you enter the ancient temple town which is gearing up for a pitched political battle for the Lok Sabha. With temperatures scaling 40 degrees Celsius, the water crisis and long power cuts in the city should have been crucial factors this elections. The same have also squeezed the small and medium industries which are in huge crisis. But strangely these aren’t, say political analysts, because here in Madurai money is the major factor, and it’ll clinch the votes, this way or that.
Tamil Nadu’s ruling party, the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), and its bitter rival, the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), are the two big players in the picture. Though there is anger against the three-year rule of AIADMK chief minister J. Jayalalitha and her inept handling of the power crisis, the DMK’s internal fissures will hamper it from gaining much electoral ground.
The fight for control of the party between DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi’s sons M.K. Azhagiri and M.K. Stalin threatens to scupper its chances in the state’s south zone. Azhagiri, MK’s elder son and former Union minister of chemicals and fertilisers, the sitting MP from the Madurai constituency and the DMK’s south zone secretary till late, was dismissed from the party on March 24. It has always known that Karunanidhi favoured Stalin to take over the party reins but Azhagiri’s belligerence had stalled it till now. His dismissal was engineered to pave the way for Stalin’s smooth transition. And to ensure loyalties, Stalin’s supporters were given LS tickets from the south.
Azhagiri is perceived to be a ‘kingmaker’, but no one knows his exact strength. Analysts say it’s just a media myth.
In the ’80s, Azhagiri, a trouble-maker even then, was sent down to Madurai to look after the party mouthpiece Murasoli. Here he built up his base and over the decades he has become a man to reckon with in the region. The sibling rivalry had often surfaced in the past but now there seems to be an odd finality about it though Azhagiri still hopes to get back into the party. He has said he will not float another party and is not contesting this election either. His dismissal for so-called “anti-party activities” though has angered him enough for him to openly call for the defeat of the DMK candidates in the 10 constituencies in the south. He has asked supporters to defeat the DMK candidates of Theni, Thirunelveli, Virudhunagar and Madurai. And Vaiko’s MDMK candidates (which is in alliance with the BJP) from Tuticorin, Tenkasi and Tuticorin have visited Azhagiri asking for his support.
The latter is perceived to be a “kingmaker” now but no one knows his exact strength. One way to prove it would be to ensure the defeat of the DMK candidates. Azhagiri has also decided to align with the BJP by meeting Modi and only a patch-up bid by Karunanidhi himself is going to reverse that move. A patch-up could be crucial to the DMK’s fortunes in this election if they don’t want to see a rout in south Tamil Nadu. Azhagiri has left a door open by making a statement that after all Stalin and he are brothers and anything is possible in future.
But journalists who have been following the DMK drama say Azhagiri is a creation of the media, that he has no real support among the cadre. They say the Madurai DMK candidate V. Velusamy, a Stalin man, has little chance because he is unknown to the people here and not because of the Azhagiri factor. Velusamy himself sounds uncertain, saying “there is some problem between the brothers but the DMK cadres are still with the party”. He’s hoping the water crisis and unemployment will ensure the AIADMK goes bust this time (five of the six assembly constituencies are held by them.)
Meanwhile, the AIADMK candidate, deputy mayor R. Gopalakrishnan, is a known personality in Madurai. “The reception I get from people in the villages is overwhelming, especially that from the poor. The power cuts here are because of the artificial problems created by the former government. We are trying to rectify the problems once and for all,” he says. Gopalakrishnan, however, refused to comment on the Azhagiri factor because “today the brothers may be enemies but tomorrow they’ll be friends”.
However, the Muslims who have been watching Jayalalitha’s every move have come out openly to support the DMK and the Congress. It has been reported that the Thowheed Jamaath feels that Jayalalitha has not said anything against the BJP manifesto and its plan to build a temple in Ayodhya. The AIADMK cadres down south too think that there is a possibility that Amma will join Narendra Modi once the elections are over. Here in Madurai, the AIADMK looks poised to win. There are rumours of votes being bought too in a systemic, scientific way. For now, that’s the only way the water problems and power crisis can be managed.