Politics

South Chennai Lok Sabha Constituency: Either Way, Modi Will Be The Deciding Factor

AIADMK’s J Jayavardhan and DMK’s Thamizhachi Thangapandian
Snapshot
  • The South Chennai segment is a forward-caste heavy segment.

    DMK is hoping that the elite do not turn up to vote as the candidate is not a BJP one, but an AIADMK leader.

South Chennai Lok Sabha constituency can be considered one of the elite few in the country where the number of educated and well-to-do is very high. It is one of the few constituencies in Tamil Nadu where the forward castes, especially Brahmins, are substantial in number.

So far, South Chennai’s elected representatives have gone on to play a key role at the centre. For example, it sent T T Krishnamachari, who later went on to become the Union Finance Minister, to Parliament in 1957. The constituency also elected Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) founder C N Annadurai in 1967. Very soon, he became the chief minister of Tamil Nadu.

The vacancy caused by Annadurai’s elevation as chief minister saw Murasoli Maran being elected and then re-elected from the segment in 1971.

Tamil Nadu was one of the states that supported the imposition of Emergency in 1975. It resulted in the late R Venkataraman defeating Maran at the hustings in 1977. Though Venkataraman sat in the Opposition then, his re-election in 1980 saw him become the Union Finance Minister and then the Defence Minister.

Later on, he was elected Vice-President before he rounded up his political career as the President in 1987 during a crucial phase of Indian politics that saw Congress being ousted from power in 1989 and P V Narasimha Rao forming the first coalition government of the Congress in 1991.

In 1984 and 1989, Vyjanthimala Bali, a leading actress in Tamil and Hindi films in the 1960s, won from the constituency. Her victory is noted more for the way she introduced her husband on a stage in which All-India Anna DMK founder M G Ramachandran (MGR) was present. Introducing her husband, the actress said: “He is a real doctor who gives medicines and injections,” little realising that it would put MGR, who had got an honorary doctorate, ill at ease.

R Sridharan of the AIADMK won the seat in 1991 before T R Baalu, who figured in the Cabinet of both the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments, won from the constituency four consecutive times - in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004. Baalu, however, had been defeated in the seat in 1991.

In 2009, he moved to Sriperumbudur constituency in neighbouring Kanchipuram district and won from there. One reason for Baalu’s decision could have been that the constituency’s geography underwent a change due to delimitation of constituencies nation-wide.

Since 2009, the constituency has been with the AIADMK, with J Jayavardhan, son of Tamil Nadu Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar, being its current representative. This time, too, Jayavardhan is contesting on an AIADMK ticket directly against DMK’s Thamizhachi Thangapandian.

In 2014, Jayavardhan, a doctor, won an essentially five-cornered contest by a margin of over 1.30 lakh votes. DMK’s TKS Elangovan ended second but just 40,000 votes ahead of L Ganesan of the Bharatiya Janata Party (he is now the party’s MP in Rajya Sabha representing Madhya Pradesh).

The Congress hardly got 25,000 votes, while the then newcomer, Aam Aadmi Party, got lower than the 20,229 NOTA votes! At that time, all the major national and state parties decided to go it alone in Tamil Nadu. This time, the AIADMK is part of the NDA, while the DMK is a key ally in the UPA. New parties on the block - actor Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Neethi Maiam (MNM) and Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) launched by TTV Dinakaran, who was ousted from the AIADMK - are also in the fray.

Thamizhachi Thangapandian, also known as T Sumathi, is the daughter of the late V Thangapandian, minister in the state cabinet during 1989-1991 and 1996-2001 DMK governments. Her brother, Thangam Thennarasu, was the state school education minister during DMK’s 2006-2011 rule.

For Chennai South, MNM has fielded a former bureaucrat named R Rangarajan, while AMMK has fielded Esakki Subbaiah, who was law minister in Jayalalithaa’s cabinet in 2011 and then dropped subsequently.

Statistically speaking, the AIADMK and the BJP together got a little over 63 per cent votes in the constituency last time, while the DMK and the Congress together got about 30 per cent.

How will things go this time?

A visit to the constituency and a chat with some voters showed that either way, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be the deciding factor this time.

“Statistics don’t tell you other aspects that decide the results in the constituency. Christians and Muslims make up nearly 20 per cent of the voters in the constituency. Those who could have voted for AIADMK among the minorities last time may choose to back the DMK candidate now. This means expecting an easy win based on the numbers last time won’t do,” says an entrepreneur who is looking at various permutations and combinations at work in the elections now. He did not wish to be identified.

“That could be someone’s view. The current generation doesn’t go by what the family elders say now. So, it is likely that Christian and Muslim youth, particularly women who are against triple talaq, could vote for the AIADMK alliance,” says an AIADMK worker in the constituency.

South Madras is currently composed of Mylapore, Sholinganallur, Virugambakkam, Saidapet, Thegaraya Nagar and Velachery Assembly constituencies. In the 2016 Assembly elections, AIADMK won all but Velachery and Saidapet constituencies, which picked DMK candidates.

“Last time, we got 2.58 lakh votes. At least one lakh votes would have been of those who are totally anti-DMK. Those one lakh will definitely go to the AIADMK candidate this time,” says BJP MP L Ganesan.

The veteran BJP leader says that Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu are being fought on just one issue: should Modi be voted back or not. It would push to the background any other factor.

“One problem for the AIADMK is that it no longer has a tall and charismatic leader like the late J Jayalalithaa, who passed away in December 2016. Will the current set of leaders have the same appeal as her in getting votes? That is a question the elections this time will answer,” says a BJP cadre in the constituency.

“On the other hand, the DMK cadre seems to have accepted even current president M K Stalin’s son Udhayanidhi as the next leader. The AIADMK is split on accepting the current leadership,” the cadre says.

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“AIADMK now believes in teamwork. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami is consulting everyone who matters in the party and gets things done. Rains failed during (north-east) monsoon last year and there is a water shortage. But see how the AIADMK government is ensuring proper water supply in the city,” says Saidai A Bhaskar, a local AIADMK leader in Saidapet.

Bhaskar himself was busy issuing directions to his party workers to ensure proper water supply. He was also responding to requests from residents in his locality for water.

“We lost Saidapet by a margin of 16,000 votes in the 2016 Assembly elections. Former Chennai mayor Ma Subramanian won it. But in the Lok Sabha elections, we will ensure that Saidapet will give the party an advantage of 20,000 votes.” Bhaskar says.

A little far from AIADMK’s local office is where DMK local chief M Krishnamurthy sits. “We won Saidapet in 2016 and Subramanian is ensuring the constituency doesn’t face water shortage,” he claims, adding that the DMK would get at least 50,000 votes more than AIADMK in the constituency.

Krishnamurthy says AIADMK lost Saidapet in 2016 as none of the ministers visited the constituency when it was flooded in December 2015. Bhaskar says no one could come as the place got cut off by waters and local leaders like him had carried out a lot of relief work. “After 2016 elections, people have accepted us and are seeing our work,” he says.

The DMK seems more keen to point fingers at Modi and criticise him. That seems to be its sole strategy, when asked what will the party be driving home to get votes.

This is in contrast to the AIADMK’s approach, which is highlighting various schemes of the centre such as Swachh Bharat, Ayushman Bharat, MUDRA, progress in various infrastructure project schemes and other social welfare schemes.

“We are highlighting issues like how Modi has failed to give Rs 15 lakh, national entrance exams for medical college seats and supporting a corrupt government in the state,” says Krishnamurthy.

“We are telling people what Modi has done for Tamil Nadu and how we have all gained in the last couple of years,” says Bhaskar.

Those working for Jayavardhan say they expect the Rs 500,000 threshold for rebate offered in the current fiscal’s budget and the 10 per cent reservation for the economically weaker class to boost the AIADMK candidate’s prospects.

“I am not a fan of the BJP or Modi. But my friends, neighbours and I feel the Modi government is far better than the Congress one. We will certainly vote for NDA,” says D Sivasubramanian, a voter from Sholinganallur section of the constituency.

“I have always been voting for the DMK. I don’t have any plans to switch over. I can’t think of voting for any other party,” says Abu A, a tailor in Saidapet. Abu said he had no other issue to consider before voting.

“There is this factor of both parties having staunch supporters who are loyal and will never vote for any other party,” says an entrepreneur working on the election pattern.

“The problem in South Madras, a constituency of elites, is that there are more upper class people. A majority of them are impressed with Modi’s government and would want to vote for him. But since AIADMK has got the seat under the alliance arrangement, the challenge is to get these people out to vote for Jayavardhan,” says a resident of Indira Nagar.

The resident said some of his neighbours were toying the idea of pressing the NOTA button. “The upper class is impressed with Modi but they wouldn’t want to vote for an AIADMK candidate. We are counting on them to not turn up and vote,” says a DMK volunteer in Guindy.

Generally, South Chennai constituency registers a lower voter turnout compared to other constituencies. It has often drawn the remark from political parties that the educated elite are “too lazy” to go to the polling booth and vote.

“What people aren’t taking note of this time is the bitterness among the middle and upper class over the anti-Hindu remarks made by Dravidar Kazhagam chief K Veeramani and also the DMK. The bitterness could get these people out to vote against the DMK. Remember, there are people who hate the DMK and this has given them an added cause,” says the BJP cadre.

In 2019, as many as 1.07 million of the 1.7 million voters in the constituency turned out to vote. In numbers, this was the highest, though in terms of percentage the 62.66 per cent turnout in 2009 was higher.

The AIADMK is relying on Jayavardhan’s father D Jayakumar’s work and accessibility to get the deprived class’ votes. “The AIADMK always has this smartness to tap the votes of the economically weaker sections. They know how to tap the votes,” says the entrepreneur, adding that a candidate’s accessibility and outlook could be the key than even how clean he or she is.

For the DMK, one handicap is its candidate Thamizhachi Thangapandian, a stranger in the constituency. Not may know her, but some in the DMK claim that a few of the voters they have met have said they had read her poetry.

MNM’s R Rangarajan has not been able to make a mark yet. DMK and AIADMK workers in the constituency say that Esakki Subbaiah is yet to begin his campaign.

This leaves the contest here between the AIADMK and DMK. Either way, the Modi factor could decide the outcome - likely in favour of the incumbent MP.

This report is part of Swarajya's 50 Ground Stories Project - an attempt to throw light on issues and constituencies the old media largely refuses to engage. You can support this initiative by sponsoring as little as Rs 2,999. Click here for more details.

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