After 577 days in jail, Vaiko is a changed man
A van blares an appeal to voters as it wends its way across a vast semi-arid expanse in southern Tamil Nadu that is famous for making firecrackers but infamous for child labour in match-making factories, closed weaving units and an acute water crisis.
"Puratchi poayal (the revolutionary hurricane) is here." After every tenth minute, the van stops before groups of people standing outside dusty dwellings.
MDMK chief Vaiko emerges, acknowledges greetings, calls some people by their first names and gets on top of the vehicle. There is no fiery oratory that used to be hallmark of all Dravidian leaders worth their salt. Instead, Vaiko uses an easy conversational style to drive home his message. His eyes are on the 2006 assembly polls.
Jailed under POTA for 19 months by chief minister Jayalalitha, Vaiko says he is a changed man. Having surprised everyone by not seeking re-election from his old Lok Sabha constituency of Sivakasi, he says he is crisscrossing Tamil Nadu on a new mission: for a regime that cares for the people and is neither corrupt nor autocratic.
The man who earned the wrath of the AIADMK chief for a speech pledging support for the LTTE's struggle for the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils, shows no signs of bitterness.
"I learnt a lot in those 577 days in Vellore prison," Vaiko tells crowds of enthusiastic men, women and children in his constituency. In fact, he may be one of the few politicians who is greeted with a smile in his constituency.
Two days ago, DMK chief M Karunanidhi shared a platform with Vaiko at Arupukkottai to hail him as a true Dravidian leader. Eleven years ago, Vaiko had broken away from the DMK, along with a number of young workers because Karunanidhi refused to shed his preference for his son, MK Stalin, to succeed him.
That issue is not resolved yet but Vaiko says he is working in tandem with the DMK to end Jayalalitha's regime. The DMK-controlled Sun TV, of course, ignores his campaign. Vaiko has named A Ravichandran as the MDMK nominee for Sivakasi where the caste equations favour the MDMK. The AIADMK has put up a local lawyer, P Kannan.
** MDMK chief shuns fiery oratory for conversational style
** His new mission is to set up a regime that cares for people
** Counters Jaya charge that he did nothing for TN while supporting Lankan Tamils