More than half of the 500 residents of this village, nestled in the western ghats, are waiting at a junction for Raassa, as former telecom minister and DMK candidate A Raja is popularly known here.
The moment Raja's convoy, comprising a campaign rath (a modified Bolero pickup van)
and a few vehicles, is sighted, firecrackers go up in a deafening roar to give him a hero's welcome.
A group of people is dancing to a victory beat, drummed up and broadcast on PA system by four people on percussion instruments kept in a small pickup van.
Raja, perched on an elevated podium on the rath, with local village and district party leaders in tow, greets the people with folded hands.
"I have come to you for justice. You are the judges, give me the verdict," the former telecom minister asks the voters of Nilgiris constituency he won last time around in 2009.
He plays the victimhood card deftly and asks the people if they would make him a victor again.
The Nilgiris constituency (literally meaning Bluehills) sprawls across four districts of Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Erode and Nilgiris and has total voter strength of more than 1.2 million Three of the assembly segments are in the hills and three in the plains. Raja had won this constituency in 2009 and has been fielded again by DMK.
The disqualification of the BJP candidate from the constituency has made it tough for Raja, as AAP and AIADMK would be the beneficiaries of BJP votes.
Though it is a multi-cornered contest, the main fight is between A Raja and the AIADMK candidate C Gopalalkrishnan.
In the last assembly elections, the AIADMK won three assembly segments and one by CPI then its alliance partner. Two segments had bucked the trend and voted for DMK candidates in assembly.
"You judge for yourself. I am giving all facts, there is no corruption case against me, the income tax people have told the court. Finance secretary told court there is no loss to exchequer. You weigh the facts and give your verdict," Raja tells the gathering.
Very smartly, Raja is turning the opposition campaign against him on 2G to his own advantage and made it into a referendum by the masses.
On Sunday, just before leaving a campaign in Ooty, Raja told Hindustan Times he was confident of "winning his case here in the Peoples Court as also in the legal court."
His first stop is Ellanalli village, where some 200 people gathered at a roadside spot. After 10 minutes of speech and interaction with local village leaders, who honour him with shawls and blessings, Raja is off to the next stop Keti village and then onto Palada, where a relatively larger gathering is waiting for him.
After making his "submission" on 2G case, Raja gets down to attacking Jayalalithaa and speaks about the power crisis and water shortage in the area. In rural areas, by and large Raja gets more affection. Nine of the ten people this correspondent spoke to believed Raja's arrest was due to politics.
"If he was guilty, why is he let off and allowed to contest elections, he should have been in jail only," said N Samavel, 69, a farmer of Polada village.
DMK leader and candidate for Lok Sabha election from Niligiri's constituency, A Raja, during campaign in Nilgiri constituency at Ketti Poladu village, India, on Sunday, April 13, 2014. (HT Photo)
In Nilgirs, Raja is seen as a worker who has done something for the constituency. Locals here remember that during the 2009 landslide in the region, Raja and his associates finished the rebuilding work in a month, something that could have taken over a year.
I work for the people and I am confident of myself. I don't depend on the weaknesses of others to win," Raja said, in response to a question whether the absence of BJP candidate from fray would make his victory tougher.
But in town area of Ooty, 70-year-old farmer Nagaraj said Raja has not done anything at all.
"We wish there was a third alternative because the AIADMK candidate is equally bad," he said.
At Ooty's main market area near Mariamman temple, AIADMK candidate campaign was on – but the thin crowd on a Sunday afternoon spelt trouble. The presence of yesteryears film star V Nirmala, who has acted in all south Indian language films, was ornamental. The previous day when Raja and Khsushboo went through the same region, the crowd was three times more, said a police official on duty in the region.
The reasons for disenchantment with AIADMK are very clear.
"Power cut is killing us. And after elections, power cuts will be longer. Amma blames Raja for being corrupt. But she herself owns several estates here in Nilgirs, Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere. At least Raja has done something for us and will do more if he comes," said a Muslim street vendor at the main bazar area.
Jayalalithaa has deployed three state ministers and all the MLAs of the area in Nilgiris to ensure Raja is defeated.
"In democracy, deployment of people will not help, performance will. And I am confident my past performance will make me win. I maintain two offices here in Nilgirs and am easily approachable to the voters. They know it," Raja said when asked about heavy deployment of AIADMK ministers in the constituency. Jayalalithaa herself has visited the constituency twice already.
Gopalakrishnan's reference to Raja and 2G scam has its efficacy in that it reminds people of the corruption issue. But in the villages of the hilly region, a majority of people see development and local issues as bigger problems. It is from these voters that Raja draws his strength.
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