April 6, 2021 3:08:01 am
“Vote for the rising sun,” called out Senthil Balaji from his campaign vehicle. Amidst applause, the Aravakurichi MLA and the DMK’s Karur candidate added, “I am like a family member, vote for me as if I am your brother, your son….”
Once considered close to J Jayalalithaa, the 45-year-old stood with the Sasikala-TTV Dhinakaran camp after Edappadi K Palaniswami ousted them from the party. In 2018, Balaji switched to the DMK — considered a big catch for Stalin.
This election, Balaji is contesting against state minister and sitting MLA M R Vijayabhaskar.
While in the AIADMK, Balaji had served as district secretary for eight years. Stalin’s decision to hand him the same post in the DMK showed how significant he was for the party. When asked about his chances against Vijayabhaskar, a close aide of Balaji said, “There is no need for Balaji to work this hard, he has been beating a snake that is already dead.”
Balaji started as an Independent village councillor in 1996, and joined the AIADMK in the early 2000s. He has represented Karur constituency as an AIADMK MLA in 2006 and 2011. In 2019, after shifting to the DMK, Balaji won the 2019 bypoll to the Aravakurichi seat in Karur district.
While in the AIADMK, the Amma Water project that he introduced was a big hit.
Known to be affable, even with political rivals such as Palaniswami and Dhinakaran, Balaji’s is easily the most recognisable face in Karur — his fans carry his photograph on their phone covers and some even sport ‘Balaji’ T-shirts. “I try to discourage them but they don’t listen,” he says, adding that at one point, people had his photograph on the number plates of their vehicle. “A rival leader from Karur took pictures of these number plates to report to Jayalalithaa,” he smiles.
Amid hectic electioneering in the constituency, both Balaji and Vijayabhaskar have levelled corruption charges against each other. Last week, the Central Crime Branch filed a chargesheet against Balaji over an alleged scam in recruitment to transport corporations. In a raid carried out last September in connection with the same case, several hard disks were seized from his office. “It had contacts of our men in booths and villages. No problem, I know all of them personally,” says Balaji.
With unemployment being a big election issue this time, Balaji is banking on his “welfare” measures to win the seat. “A job fair I organised in Karur recently was attended by 6,000 unemployed youth, and 5,000 of them got job placements,” he says, adding that he has also spent “several lakhs” on Covid relief, much before the government stepped in.
“Thalapathi (Stalin) has promised 10 lakh jobs. Our district is an export city next to Tirupur but almost 70% of women here are labourers,” he says.
On the BJP, he says, “They cannot have a foot in the door if they dictate terms to people here.”
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