November 28, 2020
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Election Special

Chennai Corner

So far nearly Rs 40 crores —mostly from the DMK —have been seized. So now you have electricity being switched off to distribute money, couriered letters with currency notes, cellphones being charged, and of course, promissory notes...

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The Bhasmasur effect

The Congress finally released its manifesto. Seriously, all of four days before the Tamil Nadu electorate casts its vote on April 13, and two days before campaigning ends. Not that the voter will look at the manifesto (which is more or less a copy of the DMK manifesto) and be influenced to vote for the party because all anyone can recall about the Congress is the rabid infighting, the lack of any cohesion on the ground, the unprecedented drama that preceded the distribution of tickets, the lacklustre campaign by the G K Vasan and Chidamabaram groups, which were miffed by the conduct and grabby nature of TNCC president, K V Thangabalu. When Rahul Gandhi came five times over the last two years, the enthusiasm he whipped up in the youth led to the presumption that he had pumped in adrenalin into the party and that he would lead a new-look Congress into the election. That energy has gone with the wind. It is amazing that after blackmailing the DMK – even threatening to breakaway – and wresting 63 seats from the Dravidian party which was on the defensive over the 2G scam, the Congress has no strategy on how to go about winning them. It’s the same old case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand does.. To amend the infamous quote by Superstar Rajnikanth about Jayalalitha some years ago, even God cannot save the party, never mind Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

All you have is seven young faces picked by Rahul Gandhi and all the rest are more or less the same tired old bunch. The same sloganeering against a group in front of Rahul Gandhi/ Sonia Gandhi/ PM Manmohan Singh/ Pranab Kumar Mukherjee/ all of whom came here to campaign for the party briefly. Even if the DMK wins, no one will put their money on the Congress even winning half the seats it is contesting. And it won’t be the DMK that will pull them down, all the discredit can be laid at the Congress’ door for not getting its act together. There’s no will even when there was a way.

Er, Excuse me, 93?

The “Amul baby” has got his come-uppance from Kerala CM V S Achutanandan. A day after Rahul Gandhi asked at a campaign meeting, “Do you want a 93-year-old as CM?” That’s what the Kerala CM’s age will be in five years time. Did Rahul Gandhi forget that his party is backing DMK’s Karunanidhi as the next CM of Tamil Nadu. Karunanidhi too will be 93 in five years time. Besides, Achutanandan was initially denied a ticket by the CPM leadership, till a furore dictated a hasty course correction the next day. Whereas Karunanidhi (backed by son and deputy CM Stalin, the DMK and allies) has declared that he will come back as CM for the sixth time!

Where are the crowds?

AIADMK's Jayalalitha, DMDK’s Vijaykanth, DMK’s Karunanidhi even DMK’s star campaigner Vadivelu have attracted huge crowds wherever they have gone on the campaign trail. Reports say the same cannot be said of Rahul Gandhi or the PM. Sonia Gandhi was luckier, since hers was a joint rally with Karunanidhi. Footfalls in Puducherry where the rally was held was impressive. Did the fact that Rahul (and Sonia too) spoke in English at these meetings lead to the lukewarm response? Unlikely, because home minister P Chidambaram, whose Tamil is as perfect as his English, was faced with sparse attendance at his campaign rally in Erode.

At Sriperumbudur about a week ago, things were no better. But that did not stop him from scoffing at the AIADMK’s manifesto. The refrain by the entire opposition has been the same. That Jayalalitha just copied the DMK’s manifesto. Chidamabaram put it like this, reminding his audience that Jayalalitha had once lambasted Karunanidhi for turning citizens into “parasites” by declaring freebies: “Board exams are on. The students who have not studied, peek into others’ papers and copy. You can either copy it verbatim or make a few changes so you don’t get caught. And that is what Jayalalitha has done.”

Incidentally, Jayalalitha who has “copied” the DMK manifesto now says “Karunanidhi cannot buy everything. He should realize that you can buy a great many things with money but you cannot buy affection, trust and the goodwill of people” Don’t want to be a buzzkill but her crisp “hard luck” (to Karunanidhi hoping for another term), cuts both both ways.

Her pitch is Goodwill Hunting after lambasting Karunanidhi, his governance, his family, etc. She must remember that the TN electorate has the reputation of voting out a leader, not voting in someone.

'Freebies are not bad economics'

Chidambaram’s son, Karti, who is an AICC member, said in an interview in the local media that “we must not confuse populist measures as bad economics” and freebies should not be viewed from the prism of the “urban elite” As chairman of the organizing committee of the Chennai Open and also Vice-President of the All India Tennis Association and also the chief patron of All India Karate Federation, he has certainly spoken up for sports beyond cricket:

“ One never questions why a tax sop of Rs 45 crores was given to the cricket World Cup (actually ICC). But the minute some direct benefits are given to the people of the lowest strata of society, it is immediately questioned by the urban elite. I think there are great benefits in populist schemes and they are also drivers of the economy — by giving cheaper rice, you are leaving more money in the hands of the consumer to buy other things; by gifting TV sets, you are encouraging the manufacture of TV sets and thus help their manufacturers, suppliers and retailers; by giving free cycles, you are encouraging the cycle manufacturing industry.”

SMS alert

Many SMSs have been doing the rounds this election. Some of these are worth sharing. These were part of the Happy Ugadi (Telugu New Year’s Day) wishes that were circulated.

  • “Beware of ‘Donga’ balu (Donga in Telugu means thief), sorry Thangabalu (who is the Congress candidate from Mylapore assembly constituency who also happens to be the TNCC president).”
  • “Congress symbol is kai (hand), but Thangabalu’s symbol is poi (lie).”

Referring to his backdoor entry, after his wife, Jayanthi, got the initial ticket, but ended up being disqualified mysteriously, an SMS said:

  • “Thangabalu cheated his wife and party to get the Mylapore ticket. Don’t allow him to cheat you on April 13.”
  • "Thangabalu made his wife a scapegoat to get the Mylapore ticket. Make mincemeat of him with your vote.”

The cyber crime cell is grappling with this flurry of SMSs after advocate A Mohandoss lodged a complaint that Thangabalu had been denigrated.

Show me the money

Candidates have been giving new meaning to the expression ‘Where there is a will there is a way’. No wonder the CEC says that controlling money power in TN, where so far nearly Rs 40 crores, have been seized, is “challenging.” CM Karunanidhi who has constantly alleged that there is a witch hunt against him by the EC, has now appealed to the Centre to ascertain the powers of the EC. “What surprises me is that the CM or his cabinet colleagues are not permitted to stay in government buildings during electioneering. And even if we are permitted to stay, no one should visit us. This is really amusing,” he said, in yet another of his salvos against the EC.

But after money has been seized, mostly from the DMK, the EC is getting strict. Although, after Karunanidhi’s earlier appeal on behalf of small traders, the Madras high court had intervened on his behalf. But the challenge can be deduced from the fact that EC went to the Madras high court recently saying it had information that money was being distributed in police jeeps.

The parties are coming up with novel ways not to get caught. For instance, a DMK office-bearer is apparently giving out promissory notes with the explanation to the voter that the party will make good after the poll. Others are using the courier service to spread money. Says an AIADMK cadre, “Each courier packet addressed to the head of the family contains a letter inside in which currency notes are concealed.” In fact, the Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar confirms that money distribution has gone “underground.” He says, “We have received complaints of parties recharging people’s cellphones and giving them discount coupons that can be redeemed.” Looks like EC officials should get night vision goggles because in some places in the districts, the electricity is switched off so money distribution can happen unhindered. In Kolathur, from where deputy CM Stalin is contesting, a brawl in a tenement broke out because a party functionary who was given the charge of distribution of Rs 1.5 lakh (Rs 1,000 to each household), apparently tried to cheat by giving out Rs 500.

Jayalalitha’s advice, unconcerned about the inducement was: “Take their (DMK’s) money, but vote for us.”


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