Hundreds turn up for coffee with MLAs in Chennai, but no legislators in sight
Hundreds turn up for coffee with MLAs in Chennai, but no legislators in sight

Hundreds turn up for coffee with MLAs in Chennai, but no legislators in sight

“The common citizen has started to leave fear behind to ask questions.”

The tent was erected, the stage set, the chairs labelled and the coffee ready, for a one of its kind 'Coffee with MLAs' programme in Valluvar Kottam in Chennai on Sunday morning.

At close to 9am, organisers, student volunteers, resident associations and civilians began gathering at the venue. All arrangements were in place for residents to ask their elected representatives questions, except the 122 MLAs themselves, who failed to turn up.

The event on Sunday morning was organised by Arappor Iyakkam, an anti-corruption group, with the help of students from across the city. The group had sent out invitations to the 122 MLAs who were lodged in resorts in Koovathur while the Sasikala vs OPS battle was raging.

The invites were sent 10 days ago, and in addition to this, organisers say, they sent the MLAs text messages as reminders for the event on Saturday. However, the lack of MLAs did little to hamper the event in any manner.

"What happened in Apollo and Koovathur? We want people's rule, not mafia rule," a man on the stage roared as I entered the venue.

One of the first speakers was Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna, who also sang the 'Pormabaku' song.

"This is the first time that civilians have gathered without fear in an area to question their MLAs. We will murder the concept of a democracy if we don't ask our elected representatives questions everyday," he said.

"When an election is nearing, we need to analyse a candidate's records to see if they are worth our vote. These MLAs are not bigger than the people. They are able to get away with corruption because we think politics is dirty and keep away from it. If we make politics a part of our daily lives and became aware, they wouldn't dare to try and cheat us," he added.

An all women's play which was performed next cleverly changed the lyrics of 'paatu padava paatu kekeva' (Shall I sing a song, shall I listen to a song?) to questions for MLAs.

Shanthi Krishnan (62) from Besant Nagar had come to attend the event with a group of 60 women, of which 20 were part of the skit.

"We are part of the Voice of the People group and our skit is on how these politicians canvas for votes. We are tired of the political options that we currently have. Even the MLAs know we no longer trust them and the Government's popularity is at an all time low. That is why they didn't have the guts to come here," she said.

However, what got the audience most excited was perhaps when the organisers called a few MLAs and put them on loudspeaker.

Tamil Nadu Finance Minister D Jayakumar's line was busy, whereas Labour Minister Nilofer Kafeel's call went unanswered.

Municipal Administration and Rural Development Minister SP Velumani's calls were answered by his PA.

According to the volunteers, around 1,000 people had gathered at the venue, and as the Minister's assistant stumbled for an answer, the crowd cheered and hooted.

"When we called MLAs to invite them for this event, several of them didn't pick up. Of the few who did, MLA Benjamin actually abused us and asked if we are Pakistanis. The reason they didn't come here today is because they are scared. They are being made accountable for their actions and they don't know how to answer the people,” said Jayaram, one of the organisers.

“The common citizen has started to leave fear behind to ask questions," he added.

Jayaram also accused Deputy General Secretary of the AIADMK and Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran, who is contesting from RK Nagar, of being "part of mafia".

"He is a corrupt man and has black money stashed in different countries, all of it routed through shell companies. They have muzzled IAS and IPS officers. Is this the kind of person we must vote for?" he asked.

In the audience were also those who had come to the event to speak of their experiences with politicians. 67-year-old Vijayalakshmi claimed that her land had been illegally seized by Sasikala.

"We bought the land in 1980 in OMR and had fenced it. But between 1997 and 2003, the AIADMK fabricated false documents and took away our land. We went to court, but they destroyed all the proof that was registered with the government. We had no power against them. Now to think that Dinakaran will be standing in RK Nagar is frightening. What will happen to Tamil Nadu?" she asked.

At the end, as a symbolic gesture, “No Confidence motion” slips were passed around and people had to select Yes/No and deposit it in a box.

"Once we have collected the slips, we will be sending them to the President," Jayaram said.

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