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Thursday, April 14, 2011

(Published in on 12 April 2011, retrieved from

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As the election date draws closer, the summer heat seems to have got to the candidates. From tugs of war with the Election Commission, to claiming credit for whatever strikes their fancy, to bringing in mythology to express their grievances despite widely-publicised atheistic leanings, party candidates and leaders have been going all out to confuse their cadre as well as voters. Here’s a look at some howlers from the last week of campaigning in Tamil Nadu.

Power struggle of another kind

The Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) has reportedly been flummoxed by conflicting notices issued by the Election Commission.

While the central branch of the monitoring body has warned that there should be no extra power allocation to any state, the Board, which is already facing a deficit, is apparently stumped by a conflicting order issued by the state branch, which said uninterrupted power supply must be ensured during election time.

The issue seemed to have been resolved on Monday. Dinathanthi noted that the TNEB has delegated officials to ensure that there is uninterrupted supply of electricity from April 12 to April 14, and put down the numbers they can be reached at in case of complaints.

The embattled Election Commission

One can’t really blame the Election Commission for being hassled enough to contradict itself. Its representatives have been running from pillar to post, chasing leads on unaccounted cash transfers. While Rs. 5.11 crore was seized on one day, Rs. 2.23 crore was seized from two different locations on another. Rather generous thank-you gifts for a wedding had apparently been stacked at a marriage hall, when no wedding was due to take place.

In the middle of all this, though, the EC managed to come up with an innovative solution for DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi’s request that he be allowed to bestow Rs. 3 crore on the World Cup winning Indian cricket team, and felicitate cricketer Ashwin, who belongs to the state. The EC said he could do so, on the condition that he didn’t pose for photographs with the cricketers. The Chief Minister promptly announced that he would hold the function after the elections.

Dinamani, in an article titled ‘EC warns of strict penalties for bribing voters’ on April 10, quoted Tamil Nadu CEC Praveen Kumar as saying there had been several complaints of voters being bribed in the last few days of campaigning. The report says “He warned that the EC is keeping a strict eye out for cash or goods changing hands and that severe punishment will be meted out to anyone found guilty.”

But repeated allegations of favouritism seem to have riled the Election Commission. The Tamil website of OneIndia quoted CEC S Y Quraishi as saying the EC is completely impartial, in response to complaints from the ruling parties in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

In another article, the same site spoke of Stalin being slapped with a notice by the EC for targeting Jayalalithaa in his speech, but as if to say it was a good old tit-for-tat, noted that the AIADMK leader and her ally DMDK chief Vijaykanth had also been given notices for criticising the DMK, and that the two had already replied on those.

The article quotes Stalin as saying, “some party leaders crop up only at election time. Jayalalithaa has focused on analysing Karunanidhi’s family in a unique manner. She worries about Tamil Nadu only during election time, and goes to Kodanadu at all other times. Now, she’s got a new partner. They make a lovely couple. What a pity he wasn’t a hero when Jayalalithaa was acting in films! First, he slapped his own candidate in public. Next, he wanted the AIADMK flag removed. One day, there was a problem with the flag. The next day, there was a problem with alcohol.”

Candidates clamour for credit

Yes, they do, and leave their own cadre disgruntled. During a campaign for the DMK, Vadivelu claimed a girl came out of coma after listening to his comedy tracks, prompting a party worker to remark, “well, next time someone has an accident, don’t take them to hospital. Just play Vadivelu jokes to them.”

AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa didn’t fall foul of her workers, but bewildered several...umm, telephone-tappers, shall we say, when her party released a booklet titled ‘Kutram Nadandhadhu Enna?’ (‘What was the crime?’), which praised her for single-handedly exposing the 2G scam.

However, actress Vindhya took up the torch for her on yet another issue, by citing Jayalithaa as the reason Khushboo learnt Tamil. In a campaign speech, she said Khushboo had been using dubbing artists, until the Jaya TV programme Jackpot, which she hosted till she joined the DMK, required her to speak Tamil live.

Vindhya had earlier indulged herself in wordplay, modifying a famous line from the Tamil film ‘Parasakthi’, penned by Karunanidhi, which said “She ran, she ran, she ran to the edge of life” to imply that the people of Tamil Nadu were running away from Karunanidhi’s rule. A disgruntled AIADMK party worker sighed to a reporter that if she repeated her quip again, her audience would run away to their homes.

Congress candidate Hasan Ali – well, the inarguably less famous newsmaker of that name – retorted to charges that he was a good friend of Sri Lankan President Rajapakse’s, and therefore anti- Tamilians, by saying their friendship was like that of Piloo Mody and Zulkifar Ali Bhutto.

A Dinamalar article later said police had impounded a car that had a poster showing Ali with Rajapakse. The piece reads “Naam Tamizhar Katchi candidates Dominic Ravi, Ilando and Jeron Kumar were campaigning at Pamban and used the car. Along with the picture, they had a pasted a slogan reading ‘Don’t vote for the hand of murder.’ Following this, Hasan Ali filed a complaint with the police, who seized the Indica car used in the campaign.”

But his reply seemed positively profound, compared to his party colleague Narayanaswamy’s statement in Puducherry that the Congress had given voters everything free, except babies, and his promise that women would be given mobile phones to argue with their husbands. In its report of the campaign, Dinathanthi studiously avoided a reference to the remark, while the Tamil website of Web Dunia stopped just short of quoting the bizarre promise.

Myths to fight home truths?

As Jayalalithaa focused on corruption in the state and centre, self-proclaimed atheist M Karunanidhi decided to turn to mythology. The DMK patron had once compared his feuding sons Stalin and Azhagiri to Ravana and Kumbhakarna, saying that he would not say there were like Rama and Lakshmana (though he didn’t specify which of them he believed to have a propensity for kidnapping and imprisoning leading ladies, and which to sleep for half the year.)

Now, he made the switch from Hindu mythology to Muslim mythology, saying he was like the Prophet Muhammad who nursed a woman in sickness, though she had poured dirty water on him. He said the grateful woman had become a follower of his.

In response, Jayalalithaa said it was time to forge a new tale of valour in Tamil Nadu, and compared Karunanidhi to Ravana, during one of her final campaign speeches in Chennai. She said the DMK had distributed cash to its voters, and created “a false impression of being strong, to break our will”. Rather incongruously, she equated it with a story from the Ramayana, in which Ravana creates an illusion of the abducted Sita to mislead Rama.

Meanwhile, Karunanidhi finally made his way to his native Thiruvaroor, from where he is contesting, to canvass for votes. While Dinamalar and Dinamani made passing references to his aggressive campaign, the Maran family-owned Dinakaran put down a eulogy to the octogenarian, speaking of the hordes of people who gathered to hear him speak and scattered flowers in his path. The report went on to say that all those who heard him swore to vote for him.

Dinathanthi published an interview with Karunanidhi on April 12, at Thiruvaroor. After lauding Karunanidhi for visiting over 46 villages in his two-day campaign at the constituency, the report hails Karunanidhi for his immense wit in answering the question ‘In how many constituencies will you win?’, with ‘more than we need to form government’.


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