A widely respected educationist, now taking on the most powerful politician in the state, makes for a good script

Vasanthi Devi vs Jayalalithaa is exciting but electorally it means nothing
news Politics Friday, April 22, 2016 - 09:43

Prof. Vasanthi Devi’s candidature against AIADMK supremo and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa at the RK Nagar constituency has created a lot of buzz.

A widely respected educationist who has always spoken up for the marginalized now taking on the most powerful politician in the state makes for a good script.

That Vasanthi is being put up by the Viduthlai Chiruthaikal, VCK, a Dalit outfit, seems to be adding further excitement to the story.

Social networking sites are agog with effusive greetings, with many stating that this could mark a new trend of concerned and committed intellectuals plunging into the rough and tumble of politics, unmindful of the possible risks involved. But then the buzz is typically effervescent, and the contest might not leave any lasting impact.

It is certainly not going to turn into a latter day version of David vs Goliath. The former Vice Chancellor herself is quite modest - “I am not even thinking of victory at this stage,” she says. She also seems to concede she doesn’t have any specific strategy in her mind and would prefer to leave it all to the VCK and the other constituents of the third front.

Radhakrishnan Nagar is in the northern part of Chennai, and has remained stubbornly backward. When outsiders sing paeans of praise to a modern and peaceful metro, they generally mean the south, its ethnic chic appeal, IT corridor and the rest of the razzmatazz of a state capital.

The seedy locale of the critically acclaimed Tamil film Kaakkaa Muttai could give one some idea of how North Chennai looks like – an ideal ground for politicians with muscle and money power to flourish, not for celebrated educationists to test the electoral waters.

No doubt Vasanthi Devi’s heart is in the right place, and she is a regular on platforms like prohibition, school education, human rights and so on. Notwithstanding such admirable credentials, she has little connection with the grassroots. Comparisons are odious, so I won’t like to name names, but one can confidently assert there are other educationists who toil hard to make quality education more accessible to the downtrodden, other anti-liquor activists who have suffered a lot because of their relentless campaigns and human rights defenders who have faced the wrath of the government of the day time and again.

This will be the first time she will be getting to meet a typical voter of the northern Chennai. With the VCK and the CPM going all out for her, connecting could be that much easier. Still she is very much an unknown quantity, and one can expect the DMK’s Simla Muthuchozhan to do much better.

The latter is actually making a debut herself, but is the daughter-in-law of a veteran DMK women’s wing leader, and they should be a lot more adept in making the best of the system.

Ironically it is South Madras Lok Sabha constituency that has seen star contestants from other walks of life, like former Foreign Secretary A P Venkateswaran and actress Revathi among them.  Even rootless politicians used to be put up by major parties from there, if only they had some celebrity quotient, hoping thereby to sway the “more educated.”

Of course reputation seldom ensures one’s victory, South Madras or anywhere else. But the point is there seemed some method in the malady, of course even this trend came to an end long ago. Now only the battle-hardened, those who don’t cringe at anything, are fielded everywhere.

If the opposition had been serious in giving a tough fight to Jayalaltihaa, they should have come together to put up a common candidate, cramping her campaign style and making her sweat it out in RK Nagar.

It was indeed strange that the VCK should have been allocated the constituency when its city base is relatively weak, even the CPM might do better here. Indeed she has all along been close to the CPM, and it came as a surprise to be told she was being fielded by the VCK.

The front could exploit caste loyalties to the hilt, but where does Ms Devi herself figure? What things could she say that could mark her out among the electorate?

If anything, in order to live up to her reputation as an educationist, she will have to be a lot sober, nowhere shrill, leaving the dirty work to the VCK and CPM cadres.

But surely both VCK and the candidate could revel in the limelight for the duration of the election – there will be no dearth of TV, print and web coverage.

VCK chief Thol Thirumalavan is known for his penchant for such publicity stunts, but it beats one why Vasanthi Devi should have opted to join the show.

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