With the political wind clearly blowing against the DMK-Congress alliance, it is only his national stature and record as an MP that are likely to see Palaniappan Chidambaram through to the Lok Sabha yet again. The 64-year-old home minister is contesting from Sivaganga for the eighth time, and, except for one blip in the 1999 polls, has won every time before.
The Sivaganga seat stretches across three arid districts in southern Tamil Nadu, 450 km south of Chennai, once part of a princely state that produced the first warrior queen Rani Velu Nachiyar to challenge the British. More than 250 years later, sitting MP Chidambaram is being challenged by R.S. Rajakannappan of the AIADMK, and Regina Papa of Vijaykanth’s DMDK, apart from sundry independents.
Rajakannappan, a former minister in Jayalalithaa’s cabinet, had defected to the DMK, but recently returned to the AIADMK fold. Papa is a well known activist and feminist scholar who set up the country’s first department of women’s studies at Alagappa University.
“He is a symbol of Indian capitalism,” says Rajakannappan about his renowned opponent at his election meetings. “It would be more appropriate for him to contest a Mumbai seat.” He has also sought to use Chidambaram’s very reputation against him, claiming he was too important a man in Delhi to have time for Sivaganga’s bad roads and mosquito menace. “If you elect me, I’ll be here with you,” he says.
In response, Chidambaram cites his contributions: the conversion of the metre gauge line through the region to broad gauge; the opening, at his initiative, of 46 new bank branches; the study loans to 16,000 students; the Rs 67 crore worth of farm loans waived.
“Don’t try to ride the AIADMK. It is only a mud horse that will dissolve midstream,” he tells his listeners. “Only the Congress can get you safely to the other side.”