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Tamil Nadu: Land of 'star politicians' stands witness to a generational shift 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, DMK president and chief minister M.K. Stalin and AIADMK general secretary Edappadi K. Palaniswami lead as ;star campaigners', but 'star contestants' in the state are few and far between

M.R. Venkatesh Chennai Published 19.04.24, 05:46 AM
(L-R)TR Baalu, Dayanidhi Maran and Radhika Sarathkumar

(L-R)TR Baalu, Dayanidhi Maran and Radhika Sarathkumar The Telegraph

Electioneering in Tamil Nadu has witnessed a marked shift with “star politicians” enjoying cult status giving way to a mix of old and new faces across the political spectrum.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, DMK president and chief minister M.K. Stalin and AIADMK general secretary Edappadi K. Palaniswami lead as “star campaigners”, but “star contestants” in the state are few and far between.


This trend reflects a new realism where “winnability” and “caste dynamics” play a key role.

Topping this rather dwindling tribe of “star contestants” is veteran DMK leader and party treasurer T.R. Baalu, 82, hailing from the erstwhile undivided Thanjavur district.

Baalu came up the party ranks the hard way under the guidance of late DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi. Elected to the Lok Sabha six times from the state since 1996, Baalu served in four Union cabinets during the tumultuous coalition years in Indian politics.

Jailed under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) for a year during the Emergency, Baalu’s first stint as a parliamentarian was in the Rajya Sabha (1986-1992) where he was groomed by the late Murasoli Maran. His rough and tough voice with a rural flavour has never shied away from criticising the Narendra Modi government in the Lok Sabha and speaking up for the state’s rights in the last five years. Baalu is now seeking reelection from Sriperumbudur.

The generational shift in the DMK is more manifest in the likes of Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, former chief minister’s daughter, who is re-contesting from Thoothukudi, and former Union minister Dayanidhi Maran, running for the Lok Sabha again from Chennai Central.

A pensive Tamil poet-writer and a postgraduate in economics, Kanimozhi is a matter-of-fact politician with deep social concerns. A tireless campaigner for greater women’s representation at all levels, she curates the Tamil folk festival Chennai Sangamam.

“India’s place in the Global Hunger Index has risen to 111 (out of 125 countries), higher than even Bangladesh; this is the Modi government’s achievement,” she said with wit and irony in clear, unadorned Tamil, canvassing in Thoothukudi recently. “But our chief minister Stalin has assured that no child in the state goes hungry to school,” she added while driving home the achievements of the DMK’s “Dravidian Model”.

“Will people believe when (finance minister) Nirmala Sitharaman says she does not have that kind of money to contest the Lok Sabha polls?” asked Dayanidhi Maran, the younger son of the late Murasoli Maran, as he went on a door-to-door campaign in Chennai Central that has elected him thrice since 2004. He is banking on the DMK regime’s performance and the party’s continued commitment to the minorities.

The BJP’s choice of candidates for Tamil Nadu is a mix of the predictable and the unconventional. Tamilisai Soundararajan, a doctor by profession, recently rejoined the BJP after resigning as governor of Telangana and as lieutenant governor of Puducherry to contest the 2024 Lok Sabha elections from the prestigious Chennai South seat. “My passion to serve the people made me take the electoral plunge again,” explains Tamilisai.

In a big surprise, BJP fielded veteran Tamil film actor and entrepreneur Radhika Sarathkumar as its candidate for Virudhunagar shortly after actor Sarathkumar merged his outfit with the party. Daughter of the late maverick actor M.R. Radha, a dyed-in-the-wool Dravidian ideologue, Radhika takes on V. Vijayaprabhakaran, the scion of famed actor Vijayakanth and founder of DMDK, on his home turf. Both stars are locked in a triangular contest with incumbent Congress MP Manickam Tagore.

Gracefully fending off malicious gossip and misinformation spread against him by “WhatsApp University groups”, Karti Chidambaram, the Cambridge-educated lawyer and son of former Union finance minister P. Chidambaram, is fighting hard again to keep Sivaganga a Congress bastion. Karti defeated BJP’s H. Raja in the 2019 polls, but this time his main rival is the AIADMK.

Tamil Nadu votes today

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