Sunday, April 10, 2011

Campaigning in Tamil Nadu, Kerala at fever pitch

Polling officials check the EVMs at a Sub-collector office. With just a day left for the campaign to end for April 13 assembly polls in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, electioneering has reached a feverish peak. File PhotoWith just a day left for the campaign to end for April 13 assembly polls in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, electioneering has reached a feverish peak with national leaders descending on the state and regional leaders launching an all-out effort to woo the voters.

While true colours of canvassing in the festival of polling -- graffiti, and other paraphernalia that come attached were missing due to Election Commission’s strict regulations, leaders are making sure they reach out to people.

Loudspeakers have fallen silent following EC norms while relatively clean walls sans posters seem to add to the lacklustre campaign.

As the campaign for the April 13 polls to Kerala Assembly draws to a close, the question dominating the highly polarised scene is which way the wind will blow as no wave is palpable in favour of either the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF or the Congress-headed UDF.

Campaign in Tamil Nadu

Both DMK president Karunanidhi and his arch-rival and AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa are contesting from constituencies of nativity and bank on this factor to see them through the hustings.

Mr. Karunanidhi is confident his “son-of-the-soil” tag will send him to the Assembly from Thirvarur for a 12th time while Ms. Jayalalithaa is seeking votes as a “sister” of the local voters in Srirangam. Her ancestors hail from the temple town.

The two leaders have hit the hot campaign trail with Ms. Jayalalithaa covering a significant distance by road and air everyday even as Mr. Karunanidhi is braving old-age in an effort to match up with his much younger rival.

Aiming her guns at DMK, Ms. Jayalalithaa has charged it with being involved in dynasty rule or family politics which was rebuffed by DMK Treasurer and Deputy Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, saying his father Karunaindhi considers “all Tamils as his family members”.

UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have already visited the state to seek votes for performance while opposition AIADMK-led combine is asking people to consider ‘misdeeds’ of ruling DMK on issues like price-rise and inflation, illegal sand mining and power cut.

Spectrum allocation scam

The 2G spectrum allocation scam issue, seen as an embarrassment to DMK with its leader A. Raja jailed for his alleged role, and ruling party’s first family members including Ms. Kanimozhi being interrogated by CBI, has not much reverberated in rural pockets.

However, this campaign seems to belong to DMDK leader Vijayakant for all his antics and popular comedian Vadivelu seen as DMK’s trump card in its effort to woo voters, especially in rural seats.

Actor-politician Vijayakant grabbed headlines when he allegedly assaulted his own party candidate in public view after the latter corrected him for getting his name wrong. He ran into further controversy when once he reportedly got the symbol of CPI, a constituent of AIADMK-led alliance, wrong.

He then skipped the joint rally of the AIADMK combine in Coimbatore attended by the likes of top Left leaders, Prakash Karat (CPI-M) and A B Bardhan (CPI) and TDP Chief N. Chandrababu Naidu.

Popular comedian Vadivelu, a household name in terms of fan following, has turned out to be a crowd-puller for the DMK.

The actor, known for his colloquial dialogue and funny one-liners, doesn’t hesitate to involve the crowds in his address and was even seen shaking a leg to local music.

His mimicking of Vijayakant, considered to be a rival due to some tiff as colleagues in Tamil cinema industry, has been his main focus which seems to give the crowd a hearty laugh.

Senior BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi are scheduled to seek votes for the saffron party, contesting by its own in nearly 200 of the 234 Assembly seats.

Star power has also come to dominate the campaign scene with actors Khushboo, Bhagyaraj, Union Minister D. Napolean (all DMK), Hema Malini and Smriti Irani (BJP) all campaigning for their respective parties.

No palpable wave in Kerala

As the campaign for the April 13 polls to Kerala Assembly draws to a close, the question dominating the highly polarised scene is which way the wind will blow as no wave is palpable in favour of either the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF or the Congress-headed UDF.

Each side, however, claims that the “under currents” are flowing their way as vast majority of voters are keeping their choice close to their chest.

Before the poll dates were declared, a feeling was strong and widespread that UDF would make a clean sweep as the state has a reputation of alternating between the two coalitions every five year.

The sterling performance of the Congress and its allies in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and the civic elections last year gave credence to this thinking.

LDF, UDF campaign

During the campaign, however, the LDF has taken the battle to even the UDF strongholds across the state with Chief Minister and CPI(M) warhorse V.S. Achuthanandan leading the coalition from the front.

In 2006, LDF lifted 98 seats in the 140-member House, an exact reversal of the 2001 tally. Most political observers say whichever front wins the poll, the difference in the number of seats might not be as big as the last two elections.

Realising that the going is not that smooth, UDF has also stepped up its efforts to gain power with national leaders including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi addressing campaign meetings in different parts of Kerala to rev up the spirit of the workers down the line.

If Mr. Achuthanandan has been the largest crowd-puller of the LDF, Congress stalwart and Defence Minister A.K. Antony has closely shadowed and countered him to boost the UDF prospects all through the state by addressing well-attended meetings.

This time round, Antony has been unusually unsparing in his attack on Mr. Achuthanandan arguing that the 87-year-old leader has not been able to rise above the stature of an opposition leader during his Chief Ministerial tenure and lead the state to progress by seizing on the opportunities before it.

Deflecting the UDF attack, LDF campaign has focused on the “corruption-free record” of the government and its “success” in taking care of social security of all sections of the people.

Apart from the state-specific issues, LDF also leveraged the movement launched by anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare to attack the Congress.

Hotly debated issues last week included the stand of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which has influence in some pocket in Kerala, with the UDF leaders alleging that CPI(M) state Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan had held secret parleys with the “fundamentalist” outfit for securing its votes for LDF.

Rejecting the charge of having struck any electoral ties with the Jamaat, LDF leaders countered the opponent alleging this was an attempt to cover up their secret truck for vote transfer with the BJP in selected constituencies.

Refuting the allegation, leaders of the Jamaat held they had not taken a final position on which front to be supported.

While it is normal for allegations and counter-allegations to fly thick in election season in a politically hyperactive state, basic issues like drinking water and roads are also in the focus at the constituency-level poll debates.

Always a poor third in Kerala’s bipolar scenario, BJP also entertains high hopes this time expecting to open its account in the Assembly winning one or two seats in the extreme south and north in the state.

The party’s best bet is on its senior leader and former Union Minister O Rajagopal, who is contesting from Nemom seat in the state capital, where even his rival agrees that the fight has assumed a triangular dimension.

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