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Cong fights a Rajiv Gandhi

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By G.C. SHEKHAR in Chennai
  • Published 3.05.09
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Chennai, May 3: Union home minister P. Chidambaram is up against Rajiv Gandhi, who is championing the Sri Lankan Tamil cause, in Tamil Nadu’s Sivaganga constituency.

Rajiv, 26, an Independent, has emerged as the most unlikely candidate to challenge a senior Congress leader, since he comes from a family of Congress supporters (as his name suggests).

The student of constitutional law admits he has an uphill battle, especially because the LTTE had killed former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

“True, voters ask me how somebody with my name can ask for votes against the Congress and in support of the Lankan Tamils. My reply is that the present government has failed to reach out to the Lankan Tamils even to the extent Rajiv Gandhi had done during his tenure,” he says.

“Since Chidambaram represents the face of the Congress in Tamil Nadu and has been a key decision-maker on Sri Lanka as part of the UPA government, defeating him would invite national and even international attention to the problems of Lankan Tamils.”

Although he is fighting as an Independent, Rajiv is backed by the Muthukumar Makkal Ezhuchi Iyakkam, a movement started in the name of Muthukumar, the first person to commit self-immolation in January this year for the Lankan Tamil cause.

“Our handbills and speakers will explain to the voters that only when Chidambaram was the finance minister, the Indian government had extended all kinds of help to the Sri Lankan government (to carry out) its genocide,” explains Arun Shourie, the convener of the movement.

Shourie, also in his mid-20s, is named after the journalist-turned-politician who became a minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s BJP-led government.

Asked how they planned to take on a veteran like Chidambaram with a massive record of work in the constituency, Shourie retorts that Chidambaram had won all these years “only because of his soft looks and white skin”.

If Chidambaram, whose complexion can at best be described as wheatish, is paling under the challenge, it isn’t obvious.

“First, the plight of the Lankan Tamils is not an election issue anywhere in the state,” says Karti Chidambaram, the home minister’s son who is managing his father’s campaign.

“Second, the voters here know the work done by my father during his last six terms. They will not be fooled by a few people who are seeking publicity.”