Vaiko campaigns at Aruppukottai in southern Tamil Nadu
When MGR’s AIADMK contested its first Assembly election in 1977, he was so busy campaigning for the party that he had little time to visit his own constituency, Aruppukottai, in southern Tamil Nadu.
So, his fans hit upon an idea — they transported half-a-dozen life-size cut-outs of the just-retired matinee idol from Madurai, mounted them on jeeps and carted them around, as a speech by MGR blared from the public address system and urged people to vote for the “two leaves”.
MGR won handsomely and went on to form his first government. “The villagers would crowd the streets just to view these cut-outs,” recalled M. Paramasivam, a 73-year-old grocery shop owner.
MDMK leader Vaiko, though blessed with a booming voice, a fetching oratorical style and rich political experience, does not enjoy the luxury MGR did in his heyday. Unlike MGR, the 69-year-old has remained a minor player in Tamil Nadu politics, with the mantle of the perpetual rebel. His blind support to the LTTE got him branded as a single-agenda politician.
“The people of Tamil Nadu know that I have fought for other issues with equal ferocity, be it Mullaiperiyar dam, pollution caused by Sterlite, for prohibition and against discrimination of south Tamil Nadu in central projects. You may fault my stand on certain issues but no one will doubt my sincerity,” said Vaiko.
So rather than field his cut-outs, Vaiko is personally slogging it out in the sweltering heat, covering every nook of Virudhunagar Lok Sabha constituency to ensure he does not get edged out in another close contest as in 2009.
“In the last election, M.K. Alagiri and the DMK intervened at the last minute and helped Manik Thakur, the Congress candidate, nose past the finishing line. This time, Alagiri himself is helping Vaiko.
“Moreover the DMDK, which won more than a lakh votes here, is now with Vaiko as part of the NDA. Add the sympathy about him losing narrowly last time and Vaiko should be comfortably home this time,” predicted Veeran Naidu, a local businessman.
In Aruppukottai, Vaiko, accompanied by state BJP chief Pon Radhakrishnan, makes a personal appeal to voters. Then Radhakrishnan takes over with an impassioned speech: “If you had sent Vaiko to Parliament last time, he would have stopped India’s ambivalence on the Lankan Tamils issue.
“His is the only voice that is heard with respect outside Tamil Nadu and across the world. If there is one person from Tamil Nadu who deserves to be in the Lok Sabha it is Vaiko.”
Vaiko got an unexpected boost when the commerce ministry suddenly hiked various mandatory fees for the fireworks industry across the board without any proper consultation.
“The fireworks industry is the backbone of Sivakasi (part of the constituency) with over 5 lakh people engaged in it directly or indirectly. There is anger that the present Congress MP, Manik Thakur, blamed the officials for changing the fee structure behind the back of commerce minister Anand Sharma.
“It only proves what an ineffectual government we have in Delhi. And the entire industry feels that only a strong voice like Vaiko can protect our interests, especially the illegal import of Chinese firecrackers that threaten our livelihood,” said K. Mariappan, the vice-president of the TN Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association.
Even D. Radhakrishnan, the AIADMK candidate, admits that Vaiko is his main opponent and that the DMK, Congress and the CPM are not in the picture.
“In 2004 Vaiko was with the DMK, in 2009 he was with the AIADMK, and now with the BJP. He has proved to be a joker and his political opportunism stands exposed. He would only finish second behind me,” he observed.
But the local people see Vaiko as a trump card that will be more effective than a faceless MP of the AIADMK or the DMK.
“In 2004, he would have breezed into the Lok Sabha as the UPA won all 39 seats. But he fielded a younger associate of his. Which leader would have such magnanimity?
“Even now, he is contesting only because the party and the allies insisted. The BJP has already declared that Vaiko would be a minister. Can the other candidates make a similar claim?” asked M. Ravikumar, an MDMK volunteer.