Plastic water pots of every hue, giant blue drums and bubble tops crowd the corner of Chennai’s Jaganathapuram, 3rd street. Women filling up their pots of water take a moment’s pause as DMK’s campaign vehicle passes by with Chennai Central candidate Dayanidhi Maran waving and smiling at them, seeking their votes in the upcoming Lok Sabha Election.
When the campaign marches ahead, the women turn their attention back to their empty pots. “There is no water. We don’t have piped water, we don’t have a borewell. It’s been three days since we got water. We have just gone and filled water. We are all suffering,” says Anitha, a resident of Jaganathapuram in Chetpet. And with summer here, residents say they are at the mercy of water tankers. Juliet, another resident says, “How many ever times we call the water tanker, they don’t answer the phone. I had to spend Rs 300 to get water. We work as domestic workers in houses, how do we do this?”
Water is the most pressing concern for residents not just in Chetpet but across the Chennai Central constituency, which comprises of six Assembly segments – Anna Nagar, Chepauk, Egmore, Harbour, Thousand Lights, and Villivakkam.
Considered a DMK bastion, Chennai Central was won by AIADMK’s SR Vijayakumar, who defeated sitting DMK MP Dayanidhi Maran by a margin of over 45,000 votes, in 2014. With all six Assembly segments now held by the DMK, the ruling AIADMK has chosen to give up the Chennai Central seat to its ally PMK. The party has chosen to field businessman-turned-politician Sam Paul, who is making his electoral debut.
Deputy CM O Paneerselvam and PMK's Sam Paul (Image courtesy: Facebook/ Dr Sam Paul)
Speaking to TNM in the midst of his campaigning, Sam Paul, who has a range of businesses from restaurants to salons and fitness centres, says, “I work with international brands and I have a lot of knowledge on these issues. What I am looking at is the professionalisation of the system and there should be transparency brought about by it.” On solving the water crisis, the PMK candidate points to the efforts by the AIADMK government to build a fifth reservoir to meet the city’s drinking water needs. He adds, “The sixth reservoir we are insisting be built in Thiruvallur district. Apart from this, the Godavari linking project will get an additional 200 TMC to Chennai. There will be a permanent solution to the water problems like the electricity problems were sorted out.”
Sam Paul is counting on the strength of his alliance that includes the AIADMK, BJP, and the DMDK to take on his main opponent – two-time MP Dayanidhi Maran, whose father Murasoli Maran had won the Chennai Central seat three times in a row. The former Union Telecom Minister, who has the BSNL telephone exchange case pending in court, refused to be interviewed. On the campaign trail, Dayanidhi reminds voters about the schemes he brought in during his tenure – such as lowering mobile telephone rates. While hitting out at the BJP-led Centre for demonetisation, Dayanidhi also attacks the Edappadi Palaniswami government in Tamil Nadu, pointing to the way his granduncle, the former Chief Minister and late DMK President M Karunanidhi was treated after his death. “What did Karunanidhi ask for? Did he ask for cash? He asked for 6 feet of land next to my leader Anna. Is that wrong for a five-time CM to ask? Did Edappadi give it?”
DMK's Dayanidhi Maran
But it’s not just Dayanidhi turning to his late leader’s legacy. Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, who was campaigning for Sam Paul in Pulianthope on Friday, reminds voters about the schemes continued by the AIADMK government. “We are still doing good. There has been no reduction of schemes. Why? If we don’t bring the schemes to the people, our god Jayalalithaa is looking down upon us. We are running this government in fear,” he says.
And while the two parties bank on the appeal of their late leaders, some people in the constituency appear uncertain. “There is no Karunanidhi, there is no Jayalalithaa. We don’t know whom we will vote for,” says Ilavarasi. With the demise of two Dravidian leaders, her sentiment is shared by many others. Nagarani says, “We used to vote for MGR when we were young. But now there is no MGR, no Amma, so we’ll vote for whoever does good work.”