December 03, 2020
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The bypoll for Tiruchi (West) has become a prestige issue for DMK and AIADMK with former deputy CM, Stalin saying you cannot stop a marriage by hiding the comb

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Chennai Corner

Powerless Amma
When she took over as the CM in May, Jayalalitha had promised that she would solve the power situation in Tamil Nadu in three months. Last week she realized that it was a mirage. Never mind three months, even three years is not going to be enough. Last Sunday the CM directed TNEB to purchase power from the open market to tide over a deficit of 1,026 MW being experienced by the state thanks to the decline in power supply from the national grid following the Telangana stir (and this shortfall is not going to be solved any time soon as the Telangana stir is escalating) and Orissa floods. “The move to buy power from the open market will help the state to overcome the shortfall and mitigate people's hardships,” she said. But former CM Karunanidhi who is slowly shaking off his depression caused by DMK’s defeat in the assembly elections, has lashed out at her: “She had criticised my government’s decision to purchase power from the open market, but yet she has now proposed the same to handle the situation. Her words are coming back to haunt her.” Touche’.

Campaign from Jail
There is a Tamil proverb that says you cannot stop a marriage by hiding the comb and that’s what former deputy CM, Stalin, quoted when he was asked whether former minister and current DMK candidate from Tiruchi (West), K. N. Nehru, would be at a disadvantage being in jail. Nehru was arrested on August 26 on charges of encroaching on a Rs10-crore land, belonging to a doctor, K Srinivasan. He has also been charged with assaulting the doctor’s family members. Other land grab cases have also been slapped on him since then. This may be the first time in TN that a candidate for the assembly election is fighting from jail. But what is interesting is that Nehru – who signed his nomination papers at Cuddalore jail where he is being held – is still going to give a tough fight to AIADMK candidate M Paranjyoti, who was given the ticket by CM Jayalalitha as a reward for him vacating the Srirangam seat from where she fought and won in April this year. The by-election has been forced by the death of Mariam Pitchai, minister for environment, who died in a road accident within a few days of his taking oath of office. Pitchai had just won with a victory-margin of 7179 votes against Nehru, indicating that despite there being a wave against the DMK, Nehru was no pushover in this constituency. In the remaining six segments in Trichy the AIADMK won with margins of between 11,000 and 44,000 votes.

Sympathy Card
The DMK’s campaign is also going to unabashedly play the sympathy card with pamphlets being circulated showing Nehru, hands folded, behind bars. “We have a good chance because Nehru has done a lot for the constituency. People are realizing their mistake,” says former minister E. V. Velu, who is camping in Trichy. Actor Khushboo is expected next week and of course DMK patriarch, M Karunanidhi, too in this prestigious battle. Nehru had a meteoric rise in the DMK after former minister Selvaraj quit to side with Vaiko when he left the party in 1993. He became a minister in 1996, but was defeated in Lalgudi by a narrow margin. Nehru became the transport minister in 2006 and after that he established himself as the “CM of Tiruchi”.

Not Easy for Paranjyoti
Although the ruling party usually wins by-elections, this constituency (which is slightly different since the delimitation) has been returning DMK candidates since 1996. That is the scale of the uphill task Paranjyoti has before him. AIADMK may also be handicapped with the DMK’s campaign to drum up support with petitions to the President of India and governor that “false land grab cases were foisted.”

Initially, DMK patriarch Karunanidhi had decided not to put up a candidate in Tiruchi (West) in view of the Mariam Pitchai’s death but when he found the AIADMK not fielding the widow of the MLA or any other relative, he decided to field Nehru again.

Word is that Nehru was reluctant but was persuaded by the leadership and now he sees it as a challenge because he is the first big leader in the DMK who has got the chance to prove that he has the people’s support, despite all the cases against him by the ruling government. Even if he wins by a thin margin, it will still mean he has proved his point because psychologically, the AIADMK which is targeting former DMK ministers on land grab, misappropriation of funds, disproportionate assets, even murder (former fisheries minister K. P. P. Samy has been charged with being involved in AIADMK worker’s murder), is going to face ignominy, barely five months after it came to power with a landslide victory. Actually, even if he loses by a small margin, the AIADMK has to eat humble pie. So, it’s almost a win-win situation for Nehru.

Amma to the Rescue
CM Jayalalitha, therefore has set October 9 for a high profile campaign where she will play up all the schemes she has introduced. She will also stress that her government, with the intention of rooting out corruption has arrested several former DMK leaders including ministers (six and counting!) for land grab. Her government has gone onto phase two with the Directorate of Vigilance Officials raiding ministers including former education minister K. Ponmudy and M.R.K. Paneeerselvam, trying to unearth their disproportionate assets.

Paranjyoti, has already been hobbled by allegations by his second wife, a doctor at Tiruchirapalli government hospital, who has alleged that he was threatening her and has sought protection in a petition before the Madras high court. She has claimed that she had divorced her first husband (the father of her two children, in 2004) and married Paranjyoti at Tiruverkadu in November 2008. She has also claimed that Paranjyoti grabbed her valuables including property worth Rs 60 lakhs.

Paranjyoti has been an active member of the party since 1972 (when the party was founded) and stayed with the Jayalalitha faction when it split after MGR’s death. After climbing up the ladder (he became district deputy secretary, then urban district secretary and between 2004 to 2006 was the district (rural) secretary). Paranjyoti, a law graduate and political science post graduate, won the Srirangam seat in the 2006 assembly elections.

Money, Money, Money...
Speaking of money, Paranjyoti has declared that his total assets including those of his wife and dependents total Rs.67.50 lakhs, including movable assets worth about Rs.27.11 lakhs and immovable assets worth about Rs.40.38 lakhs.

In contrast, K.N. Nehru has assets valued at Rs 17.77 crore, while his debts amount to Rs 10.09 crore. This includes 38.41 acre agriculture land worth Rs 70 lakh in his name and 5.29 acre of agriculture land and non-agricultural land worth Rs 4.09 lakh in his wife Shantha’s name. This does not include immovable property worth Rs 14.30 crore in his son Arun’s name. Nehru has declared that he has 12 vehicles worth Rs 51.15 lakh purely used for agriculture. His wife has 200 sovereigns of jewels and one kg silver worth Rs 78.28 lakh while Arun has movable properties worth Rs 1.44 crore.

Contrast this with what he declared in 2006: He had immovable properties worth Rs 19.96 lakh, his wife had properties worth Rs 6.64 lakh while his son had land worth only Rs 29,360. Similarly, the movable properties filed by him in 2006 and was worth Rs 12.15 lakh, his wife had movable property worth Rs 1.42 crore while his son had Rs 1.02 crore properties.

Interestingly, Nehru has declared that he has no car. But in the assembly recently, the left parties demanded an inquiry against him on the grounds that he had caused huge losses to transport corporations. Nehru had reportedly bought 17 luxury cars for the corporations but kept eight of them for his personal use and even liberally allowed DMK leaders like union minister M.K.Azhagiri, former ministers K. Ponmudy, I. Periyaswamy, Arcot N. Veeraswamy and former deputy speaker V. P. Duraiswamy to use the vehicles.

According to current transport minister, V Senthil Balaji, the transport corporations showed a loss of Rs1,905 crore as compared to the Rs 61 crore earned by it during the previous AIADMK regime between 2001-2006. Go figure!

A Plucky Woman’s Story
Interestingly, the woman who was seen as a “tough officer” and had made headlines after seizing Rs 5.11 crore (in her role as returning officer for Trichy (West) assembly constituency, in the run-up to the April assembly poll, presumably belonging to the DMK, has gone on leave. Although, the RDO S. Sangeetha(34), who recently got the TN government’s Kalpana Chawla award, says she is on medical leave for a month, there are rumours that she was transferred because neither the DMK and AIADMK wanted her there because of her “tough style of functioning.” The DMK, in Murasoli, claimed that she had asked for a transfer because of AIADMK pressure while officials said she decided to bow out because of threatening calls.

But Sangeetha, who is two months pregnant, says she did not want to take any risks because both her parents are diabetic. “I am not the kind to run away and was ready to take on election work, but doctors advised against it.”

In the run up to the assembly poll, when Nehru was the incumbent MLA, Rs 5.11 crores in cash was seized from the top of a bus. The cash was seized with Sangeetha overseeing the whole operation. In the run-up to the bypoll, on September 24, police seized Rs 40.52 lakh and gold ornaments weighing 22 kg from a car in Karumandapam, near Tiruchi and arrested two persons. The cash and jewellery were handed over to the treasury. Four days later at the same place, Karumandapam, Rs 3 lakhs was seized from a car. One of the occupants of the car, M. Kanagaraj of Vedapatti in Tuticorin district told the police that the cash was meant as the advance towards the purchase of a lorry. After the owner produced documents before the Income Tax and revenue officials, the cash was returned to him.

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