Salem (Tamil Nadu), May 4: Spectacles perched on his little nose, Adithyan is busy playing a game on a cell phone. Suddenly, he jumps up in triumph and turns to his mother, comfortably curled up in her father M. Karunanidhi’s Tempo Traveller.
Kanimozhi smiles and nods indulgently at her son. Through the windows of her father’s campaign vehicle, her admirers pester her for autographs. The Tamil poetess obliges a few before security personnel urge her to roll up the panes.
Outside, hundreds of DMK loyalists mill around the vehicle, waiting for a glimpse of the 82-year-old patriarch who has been out since afternoon catching votes for the third phase of elections on May 8.
Karunanidhi is calm and relaxed: conflicting poll surveys predicting all kinds of swings don’t bother him. In his home on wheels ' even wife Rajathi Ammal is around ' he has enough time to mull how he will target Jayalalithaa next.
Although he has an exacting and whirlwind campaign trail ahead ' from Krishnagiri all the way to Salem, with innumerable stops in between ' the daily routine he follows is unchanged. At 82, he cannot take chances.
His day begins with a 30-minute yoga session, which he concedes keeps him fit in mind and body. As for meals, he prefers them to be oil-free: idlis, and sometimes dosas, for breakfast and curd-rice, veggies and fruits for lunch and dinner.
Karunanidhi’s personal physician Gopal and cook Baackyam are also travelling with him. Baackyam, in fact, reaches the next point where he will stop ahead of him so that his special meals are ready on time.
The only thing that ruffles him is the allegation that he is “still hankering after power for the sake of his family”. His ally-turned-rival Vaiko has been firing such barbs at poll rallies.
“I have been chief minister four times. I am not crazy for that chair any more. Family is wider than immediate relatives ' it comprises the whole nation. I cannot let my long years of political struggle go waste by leaving Tamil Nadu in disarray,” he says.
It is a different matter that partners in the DMK-led Democratic Progressive Alliance have been projecting him as chief minister.
As his vehicle halts at various places ' Dharmapuri, Thoppur, Theevattipatti and Omalur ' Karunanidhi trains his guns on Jayalalithaa. She has been parroting promises made in the DMK manifesto, including writing off cooperative loans for farmers, he claims.
“Jayalalithaa is copying all that we have said after initially saying they are not feasible. This itself is our first victory,” he chuckles.
The Jayalalithaa-bashing is a big draw among the Vanniyars, particularly the men. They are thrilled more with the DMK’s loan waiver sop than the colour television offer.
“The DMK is in a better position to do it than Amma since it is part of the UPA government at the Centre,” one of them said.
Peppering his speeches with just the right dose of emotion, Karunanidhi stresses the pro-poor measures his party will take if voted to power. He repeatedly makes a commitment to serve Tamil society, despite his age.
But he also keeps track of the freebies Jayalalithaa has been announcing, countering them with more liberal ones.
Last week, he promised kerosene subsidies for poor households and scrapping the resale tax on goods.