Ahead of Assembly elections, two voters recall the charismatic Congress leader with deep fondness.

We love Kamaraj but definitely not the partyImage: Mariappan (Left) and Balakrishnan (Right)
news TN2016 Saturday, April 02, 2016 - 12:47

“I was 15-years-old when I first met Kamaraj,” says 57-year-old Mariappan sitting right below the former Chief Minister’s portrait in his flea shop at the Thousand Lights assembly constituency in Chennai.

Mariappan’s devotion for the late former Chief Minister began when he realized that that Kamaraj too hailed from his native district.“Virudhunagar,” he gushes.

For Mariappan, Kamaraj is the best chief minister Tamil Nadu has ever seen. Why? “He was the only one who worked for the people. He never put away anything for himself. When he died, I remember someone telling me that he had just Rs. 200 in his pocket and only two sets of clothes,” recalls Mariappan.

Congress leader K. Kamaraj was the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister from 1954 to 1963 with stints as an MP in 1952-1954 and 1967-1975.

Despite being a life-long fan of Kamaraj, Mariappan admits that his loyalty has not translated into votes for the Congress party. He stopped voting for the Congress in 1967, the year Kamaraj last stood for elections.

Fondest memories of Kamaraj

Like perhaps many his age, Mariappan remembers Kamaraj for introducing the mid-day meal scheme during his tenure as Chief Minister in 1962. “He really wanted all children to attend school, so he began to distribute food in schools,” reminisces Mariappan.

He firmly believes Kamaraj was one leader who genuinely wanted to work for the welfare of the people and thereby earned their eternal gratitude and love: “I have a copy of his biography with me.”

When asked about today’s leaders, he pooh-poohs the whole lot as a self-serving bunch who are simply not interested in working. “Nowadays, I’m left deeply dissatisfied with anything and everything the current crop of leaders do…even if these are instances of providing food or helping during floods,” he grimaces. 

Having given up on the Congress party after Kamaraj, Mariappan proclaims, “Now, I go by the candidates. Whoever I feel promises to do something for us, they get my vote. So if it’s the DMK one time, it may be the AIADMK the next.”

A Congressman always

For 70-year-old Balakrishnan, who grew up seeing his father Kunjikannan actively participating in the freedom struggle, Kamaraj remains his idol.

“During one of Kamaraj’s visit to Kerala, I had the opportunity to garland him,” recalls Balakrishnan.

 After passing his school exams, Balakrishnan shifted to Chennai in 1967. He had been an active member of the Kerala Students Union and later joined the Youth Congress in Chennai.

 Why Congress?

 “My ideologies match with those of the party. When Kamaraj, C Subramaniam, Kannadasan and E.V.K Sampath used to drop in at the Congress office, we used to interact; I have spoken to all of them,” says Balakrishnan who went on to become a full-fledged member of the parent party.

 But it’s been nearly two years since he stopped associating with party activities. Instead he chooses to nurture his shop at Thousand Lights.

 Elaborating on the changing political landscape, he feels that only those who are out to make money can now survive. People like him just end up spending from their own pockets.

 The state of the Congress party in Tamil Nadu

 "There is absolutely no unity within the party. It is divided into so many groups. But then it’s the same in all other parties too in the state,” he rues.

But unlike Mariappan, Balakrishnan is a die-hard Congressman, who continues to vote for his party despite his personal disillusionment.

When we asked whether he possessed any pictures taken with Kamaraj, Balakrishnan smiles: “It’s only now that selfies and posing for photographs have become the rage; in our days, just being able to meet such stalwarts was considered a huge blessing.”

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