It's Mani versus Mani in the land of peacocks

Published on May 08, 2004 12:01 PM IST

For once Cauvery is not a poll issue in Mayiladuturai where Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyer takes on his AIADMK challenger OS Manian.

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PTI | ByPapri Sri Raman (IANS), Mayiladuturai

For once, the bitter dispute with neighbouring Karnataka over sharing river Cauvery waters is not an election issue in this coastal constituency, with its newly rain-washed rice fields.

After three days of cyclonic storms, dark clouds hang over field after field of rice immersed in water in the picturesque 'abode of peacocks' -- for that is what Mayiladuturai means. Perhaps the peacocks are dancing too.

As Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyer and his AIADMK challenger OS Manian prepare for a heated poll-battle in this largely agricultural constituency in Monday's final phase of polling in 16 states and union territories, a cool breeze blows around.

The mud flats on the Cauvery delta's edge, where the river has almost reached the sea but not yet, shine like a mirror as the sun tries to peep out.

Taking advantage of the splendid weather, the two 'Manis' of Mayiladuturai are going all out to woo the one million-strong electorate here mostly comprising the underprivileged Dalit community and the influential 'Vanniyars', besides a sizeable population of affluent Muslims.

Mayiladuturai will be among the 39 Tamil Nadu constituencies that go to the polls on Monday.

Situated in the Nagapattinam district 500 km south of Tamil Nadu capital Chennai, Mayiladuturai is divided into six assembly segments, four of which are under AIADMK control.

The dragging Cauvery waters dispute is a big issue with voters in Mayiladuthurai, but what with the pleasant weather and prodigious rains, no one is really talking about it.

This farming region has borne the brunt of the decades-old row between the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu Governments. But for the first time in some 25 years, acres and acres of green, and not the usual sandy brown, greet visitors in Mayiladuturai.

The influential local legislator of the Mayiladuturai assembly segment, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s Jagaveerapandian, has thrown his weight behind AIADMK's OS Manian, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa's trusted lieutenant and former propaganda secretary.

Manian, a debutant in the national poll battle, keeps repeating he will win 'through Amma's (Jayalalithaa's) grace'. Jayalalithaa brought her aide from his native Vedaranyam primarily to match Aiyar in this Congress bastion.

Since 1977, the Congress has taken this seat seven times out of eight.

Aiyar first came to this constituency in 1991, and is contesting here for the fifth run.

If BJP is backing the AIADMK candidate, the Congress is getting valuable help from AIADMK's rival DMK.

Enter a third "Mani" -- DMK legislator Ko Si Mani who is Aiyar's champion and has brought together allies like PMK for a stronger battle against the enemy.

Aiyar has also won the support of K. Krishnamoorthy of the erstwhile Tamil Manila Congress, a breakaway faction of the Congress.


AIADMK candidate Manian has deployed a group of riders on shiny new motorbikes to go to the villages and small towns and rake up the Cauvery crisis.

"The Congress rules Karnataka. Will Aiyar be able to persuade his party's Government to release Cauvery waters for Tamil Nadu?" Manian asks voters.

But Aiyar is not really worried, thanks to the rains that have unexpectedly flooded the fields just before polling on Monday.

The suave Congress leader rides miles and miles on an old Mahindra jeep, on narrow curving roads and along canal banks, appealing to voters along the way.

Farmers stop their sowing to raises their heads, school children wave and women smile.

A woman in a red sari demands to know why he did not come to Gandhinagar as he had promised.

"I am a kai bommai (puppet)," Aiyar replies gently. "I go where 'Swamy' (the master) takes me!"

He could mean either God or his campaign manager.

A former Indian Foreign Service officer, Aiyer is on his feet from 7 am to later afternoon when the skies open up.

Tired, hungry and soaked, he breaks for lunch at a prosperous Muslim household where he names a baby 'Sana' and settles down on the floor to partake of an exquisite meal of biriyani (rice and mutton) and pickle.

Since the 1990s, Aiyar has poured constituency funds into building roads here. So local officials usually know him from his participation in functions and foundation laying ceremonies.

The other 'Mani' or Manian of AIADMK insists he is no pushover.

"I am a son of the soil and I will always be available," he promises people, pointing out that Aiyar, a Cambridge-educated New Delhi-based politician, was not expected to be at their beck and call.

Aiyar counters: "He is no match for me - he just belongs to the same place as the candidate who once gave me a tough fight -- Vedaranyam."

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