On a day when the cricket match between India and the Unites Arab Emirates was trending on social media, especially Twitter, an unlikely person stole the show in Tamil Nadu. O. Panneerselvam began trending after his followers posted memes and short videos of him with AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa. They went to the extent of calling him one of the leaves in the AIADMK’s two leaves symbol. A staunch Jayalalithaa supporter, who warmed the chief minister’s chair for her more than once, Panneerselvam is being promoted as chief minister candidate by members of his Thevar community.
With the election commission announcing the date for the assembly elections in the state, five new contenders have entered the race for the chief minister’s post. While veterans Jayalalithaa and DMK chief M. Karunanidhi enjoy a strong support base, they cannot entirely ignore the new contenders—DMK’s heir apparent M.K. Stalin, PMK’s Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, DMDK founder leader and actor-politician Vijayakanth, Naam Thamizhar Katchi leader Seeman and VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan.
At 92, Karunanidhi is the oldest candidate in the fray. Having fought more than a dozen elections, he is not ready to hang up his boots just yet, despite being under pressure to make way for his son, Stalin. Karunanidhi is also troubled by charges of corruption against the party leaders.
Jayalalithaa, on the other hand, seems to have put the troubled times behind her and is raring to go. A clean chit in the disproportionate assets case and her ill-health seem to have done good for her image. Her popularity is on the rise and currently, she seems to have an edge over the contenders.
THE WEEK looks at the five new contenders, their USPs and shortcomings:
DMDK leader Vijayakanth
Vijayakanth has been nurturing the dream of becoming the chief minister ever since he floated his party, the DMDK, in 2005. Recently, at a public meeting when his wife, Premalatha, asked the party cadres if he should be the king or the kingmaker, the crowd replied, ‘king’ and Vijayakanth was happy. Days later, when BJP leader Prakash Javadekar called on him to discuss the possibility of an alliance, he went by the people’s mandate. He kept his cards close to his chest, and refused to give the BJP an upper hand.
In the past ten years, the DMDK has grown from being a spoiler to a catalyst. Its vote share has gone up from 8 per cent in 2006 to 10 per cent in 2009 and 11 per cent in 2011. But Vijayakanth’s ambition to sit on the CM’s chair has remained a constant, except in 2011 when he went with the AIADMK to prove his mettle.
The first time he contested the elections in 2006, Vijayakanth projected himself as a chief minister candidate. He went around all 234 constituencies in the state, pitching his party as the alternative. Ahead of the 2009 elections, the party called him the ‘deciding factor’. In 2011, when he went with the AIADMK, the cadres called him ‘Chanakya’ for consolidating the votes. But days after his party won 29 seats, Vijayakanth’s unruly behaviour on the floor of the assembly earned him the wrath of both the masses and ally Jayalalithaa.
While his supporters in the rural areas say he is as charismatic as M.G. Ramachandran, who founded the AIADMK, the urban, educated elite and the middle class look at him as an overrated hero.
PMK leader Dr Anbumani Ramadoss
A lot rests on the shoulders of former Union minister Anbumani Ramadoss. At 47, Anbumani, or Chinnayya as he is fondly called by his supporters, is the youngest candidate in the fray. And, so far, he has proved to be a crowd-puller with his slogans like “no liquor, no freebies” and “no tie-up with the AIADMK and the DMK”. At a time when the voters are looking for an alternative, Anbumani hopes to offer just that.
Last year in February, Anbumani made his chief ministerial ambition public by running full-page newspaper advertisements that had the phrases ‘change’ and ‘progress’ borrowed from Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign posters. However, it remains to be seen if he would be able to emerge from the shadow of his father, S. Ramadoss, who founded the PMK in 1989. In a recent interview, Anbumani mentioned that it was his father who to this day ensured that he woke up at 5am no matter where he was.
Though the PMK has just 4 to 5 per cent of the vote share, Anbumani is hoping to strike a chord with the youth in the state. Last year he launched a mobile application called ‘For Change’. “I want to have an emotional connect with the voters. Through this app, they can share the problems in their constituency and even on the streets. We could ask our party workers to sort them out,” he said during the launch of the app.
Champion of Tamil culture
NTK leader Seeman
Actor-turned-politician Seeman is all set to contest his first election and he is beaming with confidence. His Naam Thamizhar Katchi, which was founded after the 2009 Eelam war, has already announced candidates to all 234 constituencies. Seeman is trying to create an impact through his fiery speeches and by appearing on television debates. However, his antics have so far drawn only negative reactions.
DMK leader M.K. Stalin
When it came to looking for inspiration, Stalin went one step further than Ramadoss. He adopted Bill Clinton’s campaign style of ‘meeting the commoners’. He dumped his crisp white dhoti and shirt, a typical dress code for most politicians in the state, and started wearing T-shirts and formal pants. He visited roadside tea shops, had tea with locals, rode a scooter, drove a tractor and listened to the people’s grievances.
Last year, after launching his outreach programme ‘Namakku Naamey’, he visited all 234 constituencies in the hope of rebuilding the DMK’s support base at the grassroots. However, at 63, age remains to be a big factor for Stalin. With Karunanidhi still in the poll fray, Stalin’s dream of becoming the chief minister may remain just a dream.
VCK leader Thirumavalavan
Founder leader of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, Thol Thirumavalavan is considered to be the dalit face in the state. With more than 3 per cent vote share, the VCK is pitted against the PMK in north Tamil Nadu. The party is working with the sole agenda of putting a dalit on the chief minister’s chair.
Recently, Thirumavalavan clarified the VCK’s stand on the issue. “They have initiated a debate on making a dalit the chief minister of Tamil Nadu and it has nothing to do with Thirumavalavan, the leader of the VCK. When states like Maharashtra, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have made it possible for a dalit to become the chief minister, why can’t we even initiate a debate on the subject? We are actually posing the question to the two Dravidian parties—the DMK and the AIADMK—that have alternatively ruled the state,” he said.
However, later he said a final decision would be taken only after the elections.