February 12, 2002
2200 IST



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MGR legatee Jaya now makes a pitch for his constituency

A Ganesh Nadar in Andipatti

In Tamil, andi means bankrupt, patti means village. So we have a village that is bankrupt. Sad to see a VVIP constituency with such a name. But in some ways it is appropriate too.

T Selvan, who resigned to let Jaya contest from AndipattiAndipatti first came into the limelight in the 1980s when the late M G Ramachandran contested and won it consistently. The third time was historic because MGR won even when he was convalescing in a hospital in the United States.

When MGR died in December 1987, however, the same voters rejected his wife Janaki. Whether they now accept J Jayalalithaa, one-time heroine of MGR's films, remains to be seen. As a whole, however, the state of Tamil Nadu, or at least MGR's voters, did not go with his wife, preferring his co-star. Hence, Janaki Ramachandran quit politics after just one election and Jayalalithaa became supremo of the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

Andipatti looks like any other rural area in interior Tamil Nadu. The same potholes, the same water problems, the same lack of employment. How having MGR as their representative helped the people here remains a mystery.

The erstwhile DMK government in the state had filed 46 criminal and corruption cases against Jayalalithaa and her government. And when the trial courts convicted her in three cases, it effectively tripped her triumphant ride back to power. She did become chief minister for a while, but neither the Election Commission nor the Supreme Court let her become a legislator.

That hurdle was crossed recently when the Madras high court finally acquitted her in all three cases, thus paving the way for her to contest the by-election. And to help Amma on her way by providing a constituency, Andipatti's MLA Thangatamil Selvan resigned.

Selvan is also the AIADMK's district secretary. On Tuesday morning he was very busy and had no time for journalists even though Tiruchchendur MLA Anita Radhakrishnan introduced us. But you can't really blame the man. Amma was scheduled to visit and all his attention was on that one event. The AIADMK election office in Andipatti was bustling with activity. All the workers had one word on their lips. Amma.

The DMK office was more subdued. It happens when you are not the ruling party. Tuticorin ex-MLA Periasamy was in a reflective mood when we asked about his party candidate Vaigai Sekar's chances. "Our prospects are very bright," he claimed, "but I cannot tell you the last word till JJ comes. When she comes I will see the impact and then tell you."

Subdued DMK workers before a poster of their leaderSo the DMK had finally figured that JJ would have some impact on the voters. To try and fight that impact, DMK president and former chief minister M Karunanidhi will be hitting the campaign trail on February 16. Chennai Mayor M K Stalin, Karunanidhi's son, is coming to the town on Wednesday while Karunanidhi's other son Azhagiri is already canvassing here.

Vaiko's Marumalarchi DMK office was surprisingly bustling with activity. Fighting a battle in a field where two heavyweights are going all out needs great courage, though it helps that Naidus, Vaiko's community, constitute 17 per cent of the electorate in Andipatti. MDMK candidate Jayachandran is a farmer and fertilizer merchant. This is his first election.

The Puthiya Tamizhagam does not have an office in Andipatti town. Its nearest office is 8km away in a small village called Bomminayakanpatti. But its candidate is party chief Dr K Krishnasamy himself.

Apart from these four major candidates, there are 24 independents in the fray. But the tea-seller outside the police station, a member of the town council, proudly tells you that both the town panchayat and the village panchayat are dominated by the AIADMK. And as if that were not enough, Andipatti falls under the Periyakulam parliamentary constituency, which too is held by the party. The MP, T T V Dinakaran, is famous as the brother of J Jayalalithaa's former foster son who had a 100 crore-rupee wedding in Chennai in 1995, which caused her to lose the next assembly election.

The teashop councillor is convinced that Jayalalithaa will win by 80,000 votes. He says there are 203,000 voters of whom 180,000 will vote. And Amma will canter home.

Of course, he doesn't care that the AIADMK government recently raised bus fares, the price of rice supplied through the public distribution system, and power rates, all affecting the common man. Nor does he remember that so far every Tamil Nadu politician who has interfered with the price of rice has lost.

The Congress and the Tamil Maanila Congress are supposed to be supporting the AIADMK, but there is no visible sign. "Not on the road nor in the press," remarked a disgusted AIADMK worker.

A BJP worker putting up his party's flagsThat is not the case with the Bharatiya Janata Party. A worker is busy putting up his party flag all over the place. "I am doing this, supporting the DMK that is, not because I like Karunanidhi but because I have to respect [Prime Minister Atal Bihari] Vajpayeeji's word," he emphasizes.

One villager remarked, "It's scary, the number of people coming here from all over the state and the press from all over." He is right. This valley nestling in the southern Western Ghats has never seen so many MLAs, MPs, ministers, a chief minister and two former chief ministers, and mayors, past and present, all at once.

Till February 21 there will be hustle and bustle. After that whoever wins will go to Chennai and Andipatti will remain a bankrupt village as its very name proclaims.

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