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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

‘I’m more than an auto driver’s wife, been CPM worker for years’: S K Ponnuthayi

“I never expected a ticket. When the CPM got six seats in the DMK-led alliance, it was decided that one of the candidates should be a woman. They chose me,” Tirupparankundram CPM candidate S K Ponnuthayi tells The Indian Express.

Written by Manoj C G | Madurai |
Updated: March 24, 2021 7:02:43 am
S K Ponnuthayi, Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections 2021“CPM wanted one of its six candidates in the DMK alliance to be a woman. They chose me,” says S K Ponnuthayi. (Photo: Manoj C G)

At Thiagarajar colony, on the outskirts of Madurai, CPM Tirupparankundram candidate S K Ponnuthayi’s evening campaign is about to begin. Minutes before she arrives, her husband R Karunanidhi drives in, in an autorickshaw carrying flags along with a few party workers. It’s the same autorickshaw that he rides around town to earn his living.

Ponnuthayi, 46, who has had a long career as a CPM) worker, smiles when asked about the photograph of the couple in their autorickshaw that went viral on social media recently.

“The autorickshaw has been our source of income for years. But after seeing the photograph many people think I am just an autorickshaw driver’s wife who has made it big,” she says discussing the picture which was taken when she had gone to file her nomination papers as the DMK-led alliance’s candidate. “I have been doing public service since 1993. My husband is also an active party worker.”

That picture has also set a somewhat ‘David vs Goliath’ narrative for the contest in Tirupparankundram, where Ponnuthayi is facing local strongman and veteran AIADMK politician V V Rajan Chellappa.

“I never expected a ticket. When the CPM got six seats in the DMK-led alliance, it was decided that one of the candidates should be a woman. They chose me,” she tells The Indian Express.

While Ponnuthayi is a member of the CPM’s Tamil Nadu state committee, her opponent Chellappa is the sitting AIADMK MLA from Madurai North. He has been Mayor of Madurai Corporation and an MP.

But Ponnuthayi is confident. “We have a strong alliance. People are not happy with the AIADMK, which is using money power. We don’t have that kind of money to spend but we know that the people are looking for a change,” she says.

Ponnuthayi, who started working as a political activist when she joined the literacy movement in 1993, is also not new to electoral battles. “In 1996, I had fought for the municipal chairman elections. I had lost narrowly. Then I contested for the village panchayat president elections after my marriage,” says the mother of two.

The CPM leader does not see any contradiction in the party and Congress being part of the same alliance in Tamil Nadu, even as they are set for a bitter contest in neighbouring Kerala. “We became part of the alliance to ensure that the communal BJP does not find a foothold in Tamil Nadu. The Congress is part of the DMK-led alliance. We have no direct alliance with it. We want to oust the AIADMK, keep the BJP out,” she says, adding, “The No. 1 enemy is the BJP… In fact, they are both the same. The AIADMK is hand-holding the BJP in Tamil Nadu. CM Edappadi (K Palaniswami) does what Modi says.”

Eventually, says Ponnuthayi, she is banking on her work as a party worker for many years. “She has been at the forefront of many struggles, whether it is on the issue of violence against women, child abuse or relocation of liquor shops… She has a grassroots connect,” says a local DMK leader.

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