Updated: March 21, 2021 7:27:08 am
It’s 10.30 am, and M K Stalin, DMK supremo and the party-led alliance’s Chief Ministerial candidate, has already arrived for his campaign rally for the first Assembly poll without the two Dravidian stalwarts – M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa.
However, as was seen during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the two leaders still figure prominently in the campaign, which, at the same time, has turned into a Stalin versus Edappadi K Palaniswami contest.
Chief Minister Palaniswami hogs perhaps an equal space as Jayalalithaa in the AIADMK campaign materials. The party’s publicity vehicles shuffle between videos of Jayalalithaa’s speeches targeting the DMK’s “first family” and visuals highlighting the Palaniswami government’s achievements. His deputy O Panneerselvam is missing.
At Thuckalay near Nagercoil, on the southern tip of Tamil Nadu, Stalin introduces himself as Karunanidhi’s son – the Karunanidhi, who, he says, as a school student led an anti-Hindi protest in Tiruvarur, the leader who built a 133-foot-high statue of Tamil poet and scholar Thiruvalluvar and the man who gave pension and other benefits to families of those who fought for Tamil-speaking areas in erstwhile Travancore to be annexed to Tamil Nadu.
But Stalin doesn’t need to introduce himself as Karunanidhi’s son. He is the tallest leader within the DMK in his own right, having been the second-in-command to Karunanidhi for decades, Deputy CM once, Chennai Mayor twice and leader of the opposition since 2016. But he and the DMK know that Karunanidhi’s legacy endures.
Stalin, interestingly, does not mention the Congress, barring when he mentions names of the candidates — from the Congress and DMK — in the district. Kanyakumari has been a bastion of the DMK and the Congress with the parties having won all the seats last time. But interestingly, he devotes as much time to attacking the Chief Minister levelling several corruption charges as also Prime Minister Narendra Modi even while listing out his party’s manifesto promises.
Sources in the Congress say the alliance feels the AIADMK’s association with the BJP could not just drive the minorities – both Muslims and Christians – away from the AIADMK but also enrage Tamil enthusiasts because of misgivings over Hindi. The church holds considerable sway in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. And there is a sizeable Muslim population too.
Stalin says AIADMK has become a local unit of the BJP, and accuses the latter of trying to introduce communal and divisive politics in Tamil Nadu. “I want to tell the BJP…don’t forget this is the Dravidian land, the land of Periyar, Anna, Kamaraj and Kalaignar (Karunanidhi)…your tricks won’t find success here.”
Stalin argues the state’s rights have been pledged before the BJP-led central government and it is being “run from Delhi”. “This is not just an election to elect a government. It is an election for saving our self-respect…Modi and Amit Shah are trying to ruin this nation…but nobody can enter Tamil Nadu.”
To drive his point home, he mentions the uproar over NEET examination, and that the AIADMK backed the passage of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act and the instant triple talaq law.
The DMK chief also talks about Jayalalithaa, and when the crowd responds, he asks “was she killed”. “An inquiry commission had been appointed. It is headed by Justice Arumughaswamy… But it is functioning only in name. It has been working for four years… but no truth has not come out so far….we (DMK and AIADMK) may have had many differences over policies and aims….but she was the chief minister of all…I have been repeatedly saying that we will of course implement the promises made in our manifesto but also find out the mystery behind Jayalalithaa’s death…it is my responsibility.”
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