In an election in which the AIADMK is banking heavily on welfare schemes implemented by J Jayalalithaa’s government, those facing the closest contests include her most senior lieutenants.
O Panneerselvam, for instance, has shifted from his home constituency of Periyakulam (which is now a reserved seat) to Bodinayakanur. Retheesh, an AIADMK member, says while Panneerselvam has done a lot for Bodinayakanur, “He was never accessible to people and his family controls the area.”
The belief that Panneerselvam is no longer in Jayalalithaa’s good books is expected to hurt his chances.
Panneerselvam was once close enough to the AIADMK supremo for her to nominate him as stop-gap CM while she served a brief prison term. Now, since March, his close relatives have been removed from party posts.
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The Panneerselvam camp is banking on the support of the Maravars and Kallars, both OBC-Thevar sects.
While the DMK has a good candidate in Lachmanan, his campaign has been hobbled by lack of money.
In Athoor in Dindigul district, Natham Viswanathan, the incumbent Power Minister, also close to Jayalalithaa once, faces a tough fight from I Periasamy, a DMK veteran and a former revenue minister. Periasamy is a sitting MLA from Athoor for four terms.
Natham was forced to shift from the Natham constituency, where he won four times, to Athoor. A loyalist of the AIADMK leader confesses the message was clear in the change of constituencies. “Everyone knows Amma shifted him out of his territory. He has fallen out of favour.”
Natham incidentally is facing a probe by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau into allegations that he received Rs 525 crore as bribe for signing power purchase agreements after the elections were announced.
Like in the case of Panneerselvam, Natham’s loyalists have been stripped of their party posts in his native Dindigul in the past three months.
A local priest talks of Natham being heckled by villagers on the campaign trail. “We trust Periasamy who has served us for two decades,” he says.
In Pappiredippatti in Dharmapuri district, an area where forest brigand Veerappan was killed, Education Minister P Palaniappan is finding the going tough.
Palaniappan not just faces a strong multi-cornered contest in this Vanniyar stronghold but also local infighting, allegations of ill-gotten wealth, and charges of being aloof.
A 40-year old temporary teacher from Pappiredippattii, working at a leading aided college in Chennai says, “I am among the 1,200 candidates waiting for an appointment order from him. But his officials demand a minimum of Rs 7 lakh to 15 lakh to approve our job. I continue to work for Rs 8,000 despite having PhD and NET qualifications. I don’t want a higher education minister from my constituency.”
Ironically, an AIADMK leader who was unceremoniously dropped from the Cabinet in July last year for allegedly claiming that he was the successor to Jayalalithaa, Senthil Balaji, will find it easier in Aravakurichi in Karur district. He enjoys the support of the Gounder community.
Even rivals confess he is a good candidate who has brought a lot of development to the area, and that he is likely to be a minister again if the AIADMK is elected to power.
There is another reason for that. Even in a party where sycophancy is a way of life, and of dressing, Balaji had stood out from the crowd by organising special pujas, lighting over a lakh lamps, leading a massive fire-pot rally, and tonsuring his head, after Jayalalithaa was acquitted in the disproportionate assets case early last year.