Chennai North Lok Sabha constituency is poised for a change and the change may very well favour the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). The oldest assembly constituency in the city voted an All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam member of parliament, for the first time in more than 50 years in 2014. The constituency had always been the bastion of the DMK with popular leaders like C Kuppusami, NVN Somu, and previously the Indian National Congress. In fact, TG Venkatesh Babu the AIADMK MP had been a surprise winner even for the locals. Says a resident of Perambur, on the condition of anonymity, “A majority of us here favour the DMK. Somehow, last time, he (Venkatesh) got a sweeping majority. We didn’t see him after that.” Venkatesh Babu had defeated DMK’s R Girirajan by over a lakh votes, in the previous polls.
But the change in regime didn’t bring a transformation, as the locals rue that the woes plaguing the constituency has remained—be it the bad roads, leaking pipes or the stagnant development. The region is home to a large group of lower income groups. For residents in the narrow lanes of Washermenpet or beyond Royapuram, till Ennore, the list of promises like employment opportunities and basic amenities remain mere promises. Saravanan, an auto driver in Royapuram, stationed right behind the historical, more than a century old station, says, “We voted for Amma and she was extremely capable of alleviating problems here. But after her, we see no hope in the current party. The MP has not visited this place. There were talks about making this station on par with the Chennai Central and Chennai Egmore, but nothing has happened. Had it fructified, income for people like me would have been boosted, commute for residents would have become easier.” He indicates that the people made a mistake by trusting AIADMK. “DMK at least has a known face (Stalin) and he is vocal about issues,” he adds.
The major candidates in the fray for the upcoming elections are Azhagapuram R Mohanraj from the DMDK, as part of AIADMK-led alliance in the state and DMK’s Kalanithi Veerasamy. And, the fisherfolk, a dominant set of voters in the belt who were with the AIADMK always, barely connect with the DMDK candidate. “He is not from here. How will he know or understand our worries regarding fishing, the lack of infrastructure here in the market and the financial crisis we go through during the fishing ban,” asks Balaraman, a fisherman.
The tie up with the BJP is also a major factor that is working against the AIADMK. Memories of demonestisation and the GST continue to haunt them. Srinivasan, who runs a mechanic shop, says, “The input costs have gone up. Today, if I have to replace a tube in the tyre, I charge my customer a hundred more and both of us lose out on money.” The prices of fishing nets have gone up a few hundreds, says Balaraman, who adds that the costs soar by thousands when they have to buy a number of then.
Shanthi, a homemaker from VOC Nagar, lists out a set of grievances. “Cylinder prices have gone up to ₹800. How are we supposed to afford it?,” she asks, accusing the Centre of being ignorant of the plight of the lower income groups. “They made us wait in long queues outside banks, as though we can afford to miss on a day’s wage,” she says bitterly.
In Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar, the citadel of ‘Amma’ till TTV Dhinakaran made in roads, the anger and disillusionment are palpable. Alex Pandian, who runs a food stall, says when Amma was around she built roads and gave them street lights, but after her politicians no longer care for them. “We will vote for the DMK because we know at least they won’t let us down. Stalin knows and understands our issues. We won’t be harassed by the police who pick on people like me for no reason.”
The left, which has been a force to reckon with in Chennai North that includes six assembly constituencies, is also coming to the fore in the polls campaigning for its ally DMK S Dorairaj. A member of CPI-M says that the party will be aggressively campaigning for the next few days, meeting people in various public places. “We will meet the people and tell them what they are losing if they believe in the AIADMK and the BJP,” he says.
A section of voters is still wary of the cash and freebie trap that worked for TTV Dhinakaran. A mechanic on the condition of anonymity says, “The people here will move from AIADMK to DMK this time. In the RK Nagar bypolls they voted for Dhinakaran, lured by the promise of money. If someone gives money they will vote for them without questioning. That’s the tragedy of being poor. I can’t blame them for it.” An angry onlooker pushes him aside and asks, “But why do you blame the politician anyone if you can sell your vote?” He recalls MGR’s famous words on why people should never sell their votes for quick money. “He told us we are selling ourselves short to bear the brunt for the next five years.”