Autorickshaws are scuttling around Chennai city with loudspeakers bearing messages from dead leaders
In the bustling narrow streets of West Mambalam in the south Chennai Lok Sabha constituency, an autorickshaw is parked every day right across the Corporation office of the area.
Passersby stand startled for a few minutes as the late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s voice floats over the loudspeaker.
Their momentary surprise is due to what “Jayalalithaa” is actually saying from the autorickshaw. “I therefore urge you to vote for my dear brother TTV Dhinakaran’s ‘Gift Box’ as the ink from this will bring you pride. I urge you to vote for TTV Dhinakaran’s representative in south Chennai – Esakki Subbaiah – on the ‘Gift Box’ symbol and make him win. Do not forget to vote for the ‘Gift Box’ symbol. Will you do it? Will you do it?” she demands of her listeners.
The voter might be forgiven for her confusion at this exhortation. The ‘Gift Box’ symbol was allotted to the nephew of Jayalalithaa’s close aide in life VK Sasikala for his recently launched party Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) barely two weeks ago. This, after a protracted legal battle which went up to the Supreme Court.
Whereas, Jayalalithaa passed away two years ago in December 2016!
Even better, TTV Dhinakaran’s supporters have managed to get AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) founder MG Ramachandran to campaign for their party from beyond the grave.
MGR, as he is popularly known, exhorts people to vote for his “younger brother” Dhinakaran and the AMMK.
“Younger brother TTV Dhinakaran’s symbol is ‘Gift Box’. For Tamil society to rise up, ‘Gift Box’. For the poor to get relief, ‘Gift Box’. To celebrate women’s rights, ‘Gift Box’. For social justice, ‘Gift Box’. For freedom of speech and expression, ‘Gift Box’,” says “MGR” in his typical lisping delivery.
In between these “speeches” the audience is treated to popular songs from MGR’s hit films from the 1960s and 1970s.
Battle For Legacy
After Jayalalithaa’s demise in 2016, the AIADMK split. On one side was the VK Sasikala faction and on the other, the much smaller O Panneerselvam (OPS) faction. Current Chief Minister of the state Edappadi Palaniswami was in fact installed as the Chief Minister as Sasikala was handed a jail term in a corruption case.
However, as TTV Dhinakaran began to call the shots in Sasikala’s absence, a mutiny of sorts began. Edappadi and OPS decided to join hands, throwing TTV Dhinakaran out in the cold, with the blessings of the Centre.
Subsequently Dhinakaran has been playing spoilsport within the ruling party, first winning the RK Nagar Assembly seat, Jayalalithaa’s erstwhile constituency and then later, by taking 18 MLAs onto his team and with the support of at least three more sitting MLAs and three Independent MLAs who contested on the AIADMK’s two-leaves symbol.
The battle between Dhinakaran and the EPS-OPS combine is for the legacy of MGR and Jayalalithaa.
And to this end, both parties are appropriating the leaders to suit their own election campaigns.
“We did it for elections,” grinned CP Ashok Kumar, General Secretary of the T Nagar constituency for AMMK. What they did was to find mimicry artistes and get them to dub a tailormade script in the voices of Jayalalithaa and MGR.
When asked about why they are targeting the AIADMK, Kumar was quick to disagree, despite the audio recordings showing otherwise. “We are only targeting the DMK,” he said. The DMK is the rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the party in opposition.
“What has the AIADMK done? They are only boasting about things that were done by Amma. They have not done anything and the people know this,” he said.
Admittedly the campaign by the AMMK is a lot smaller in south Chennai than that of the ruling party or its Dravidian rival.
Heavyweights are jostling for south Chennai – Jayavardhan, son of Fisheries Minister Jayakumar is the AIADMK candidate and Thamizhachi Thangapandian, the sister of former DMK minister Thangam Thennarasu, is the candidate for the DMK.
In the midst of this, the AMMK has fielded a former Law Minister of the state, Esakki Subbaiah, former AIADMK MLA from Ambasamudram as its candidate in the south Chennai Lok Sabha constituency.
The campaign office is not much to look at – in fact there is not even a banner or a sign announcing that the little room on Velu Street is the campaign office for the party.
But the young members of the team are charged – autorickshaw campaigns, youngsters riding around the constituency with flags on bikes are visible. Though the AMMK’s campaign is almost invisible compared to the ruling AIADMK and the DMK, the party is still giving it its best shot.
“We have a lot of support among the people,” claims Ashok Kumar.
One can only hope former Chief Minister CN Annadurai, whose smiling photograph too features on the banners of the AMMK, is not woken up from his eternal slumber as well to campaign for the party.