A poor neighbourhood in northern Chennai is buzzing with political activity over its star candidate these days: chief minister J Jayalalithaa.
But in spite of the heavyweight leader and the area’s reputation of being an AIADMK stronghold, 45 candidates are contesting the polls in Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar, the highest in any constituency across Tamil Nadu.
The AIADMK chief won a resounding victory during bypolls here in 2015 but opposition parties are going all out to deny her a thumping win in the May 16 elections.
“This is Amma’s constituency, but has she done anything to help you? Vote for the DMK front to end corruption and bring back jobs to the people,” blares a loudspeaker from an auto, painted in the Congress colours.
Experts say parties field a massive number of candidates to garner publicity and try and control booth management on poll day. “People know that if they stand against the chief minister they get more publicity,” says SPS Raja, the north Chennai district secretary for the AIADMK’s labour union.
But political analyst Gnani Sankaran has a different answer. “It is a very normal practice, for both the DMK and AIADMK, to field a number of candidates masquerading as ‘independents’ against their star candidates,” he says. “Each candidate is entitled to a booth agent, and therefore control over booth management will rest with the two major parties.” Both Dravidian parties deny the allegations.
RK Nagar was badly affected by last year’s floods and has always been one of the poorer parts of Chennai. But that doesn’t appear to have dented Jayalalithaa’s popularity.
“They’ve improved the roads, built bridges, opened water tanks and helped rebuild the area after the floods,” says Nagesh, a 48-year-old auto driver, with a smile. “Things definitely improved after Jayalalithaa came. How could they not? She built an arts college, crime has gone down in the area.”
The DMK that has fielded relatively inexperienced Shimla Muthuchozhan, refuted the claim. “During the floods, the water was almost chest-deep in some places,” says Sathyanarayan, the local DMK leader.
“But did this government help? No; they just told other people to not come and see what was going on,” he adds.
“Just look at how the garbage has been piled up next to people’s houses,” says D Mannickam, a local resident, gesturing towards a fetid pool of water. “The AIADMK just hides it and claims they’ve cleaned up the area.”
But the few voices of dissent aside, RK Nagar knows one thing: Come May 16, Jayalalithaa will win in her constituency.
“Our Amma will stay in charge,” says Nagesh. “There is no chance for any other candidate.”