Tagore is an unlikely surname in Tamil Nadu and 34-year-old Manicka Tagore is tired of explaining how the Bengali poet’s name got attached to his.
His father, who taught Tamil, admired Rabindranath Tagore, which is how he got his last name. His first name came from his grandfather Manicka Ambalam, a Congress leader close to Kamaraj and an MLA in 1957.
By defeating Vaiko, Tagore has settled, once and for all, the utility of the Sri Lankan ethnic question as a poll-issue in the southern state. Vaiko had entered the fray threatening “blood bath” if LTTE chief Prabhakaran were killed. There has been no trace of Vaiko after Prabhakaran was killed.
Contrary to what usually happens, Tagore has gained a few pounds in the gruelling three-week long election campaign. “I fought with a happy frame of mind,” he explains. Nobody expected him to win — “On 23rd April, when I landed in Madurai, everyone was sorry for me.”
Tagore has been in-charge of organisational elections in the Indian Youth Congress and had just finished elections in the Gujarat unit when Jitendar Singh, Congress secretary with Rahul Gandhi, called to ask whether he would be willing to contest from Viridunagar. It was April 22, only two days to go before nominations closed. The Congress had already announced a candidate for the seat, who sections of the party stiffly resisted. “Opportunity comes only once. I said yes,” recalls Tagore. His campaign focused mainly on the NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), a huge hit in the region known for its fireworks and handloom industries. Tagore had a team of 700 youth who went around the villages. “We kept off making big promises,” he says.
Tagore grew up near Virudunagar. In 1994, he moved to Bangalore for a law degree and in 1997, landed in Delhi for an internship with a senior lawyer. A meeting with Alka Lamba, president of Congress student wing NSUI changed the course of his life and Tagore became NSUI national general secretary. In 2003, he was made general secretary of the Youth Congress. “He is like an inverter. He never gives up and you can always fall back on him,” says Kuntal Krishnan, who worked with him in several elections to Delhi University Students Union.
After 12 years in Delhi, Tagore has taken to chewing pan masala and has learnt enough Hindi to make his Tamil slightly forced, at least in the initial days of the campaign.