Chennai, March 29: When she grows up, T. Kalaisena may come to know that her first birthday event had some political significance as well when one M.K. Alagiri used the occasion to settle scores with his father M. Karunanidhi.
On March 23, the year-old daughter of Tamilselvakumar, a diehard Alagiri loyalist from Rajapalayam town near Madurai, had no clue that Alagiri, the estranged son of the DMK president, will be the more important person that day.
Alagiri’s supporters, including the toddler’s dad, converted her first birthday and ear-piercing ceremony into a political platform from where the shunned son attacked those conspiring against him.
Two days later, Alagiri was expelled by his party.
Little ones like Kalaisena are much in demand on Tamil Nadu’s election circuit, more so if they are nearing a milestone — like the first birthday or the naming ceremony.
Political parties are hijacking the events to organise party meetings and circumvent restrictions on expenses imposed by the Election Commission.
The ruling AIADMK appears to be particularly active on this front. Its functionaries have apparently been asked to scout for a list of such “qualified kids” so that family events can be dovetailed into a party workers’ meeting or used as a pretext to serve biryani to cadres on campaign duty.
If a family (preferably party supporters) plans to celebrate the naming ceremony or first birthday of a child, the politicians offer to foot the bill for erecting the pandal, hiring tables and chairs and catering. Once the family agrees, a hall is hired or an open area near the residence is taken on rent.
In order to complete the guise, a digital banner with a photo of the child and the event’s details are printed and displayed in front of the hall. Once the ceremony is over, the family members are served food after which party workers, who are campaigning for the local candidate, are served biryani.
An AIADMK office-bearer in Adambakkam, a Chennai suburb that falls in the Sriperumbudur Lok Sabha constituency, justified this approach.
“In the past, we had committed workers who would come for election work and would be happy if we got them samosa and tea. But these days, there is no enthusiasm unless you promise to serve biryani for lunch. Food for one workers’ meeting alone can go up to Rs 20,000 and this will be accounted as election expenses. But when we convert it into a family event, not only are the voter family and their relatives happy but there is also no need to show it as election expenses.”
If a baby with a suitable date cannot be found, some leaders try to persuade the parents to either advance or postpone the actual celebration by a few days to coincide with the party activity in that area.
“I would have had to shell out Rs 60,000 for my son’s first birthday which falls only next month. But since the local AIADMK leader agreed to foot the bulk of the expenses, we had advanced the event which was held on Wednesday,” said Senthilkumar of Poonamalee, whose family has always voted for the AIADMK. He was also confident that this gesture might get him an important post in one of the wings of the AIADMK.
Once the AIADMK showed the way, other parties, particularly the DMK and the DMDK, are adopting a similar approach.
“When it comes to bypassing election rules, political parties in Tamil Nadu always come up with ingenious methods. Since we are more focused on larger violations like bribery and intimidation, these misdemeanours are often overlooked,” said an official.
The Tamil Nadu tiny tot formula raises the bar on the time-tested baby-kissing ritual in election season. Narendra Modi has started reaching out to children while Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj have perfected the art of doing so with grace. But the pedestal on this count is still occupied by Indira Gandhi.
Few in India have yet been accused of the legend associated with Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the US, the baby-kissing superpower. Jackson had apparently picked up a baby thrust towards him and admired the “beautiful specimen of American childhood”. The President then handed the baby to his friend John Eaton and told him before walking away: “Kiss him, Eaton”.