In the lands watered by the delta of the Cauvery, the summer heat is stifling. The great river has shrunk to a trickle; its distributaries are no more than pathetic-looking drains. It is here that the gladiators of Tamil Nadu politics – Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa – have come to seek shelter, to return to their roots, and do battle.
At the Sangam hotel in the historic town of Tiruchirapalli, the lobby is crowded with journalists, AIADMK workers in white dhotis and shirts and securitymen in grey safari suits. All of them are anxious, none more than the journalists. Many of them have been promised interviews with the ‘Puratchi Thalaivi’ (revolutionary leader), but it now seems as if she is not going to oblige. A headline in a Tamil daily suggesting she had copied the freebies-laden DMK manifesto has upset her, cowering aides say. At exactly 5 pm, when the summer heat has lost its fervour, Jayalalithaa walks out of the lift, tailed by her constant companion Sasikala Natarajan. Grim and unsmiling, she heads straight in the direction of her custom-built campaign van.
The journalists realise that she is going to mete out collective punishment to the media by refusing to be interviewed. Her first campaign stop is at Jeeyapuram, a village that is part of the Srirangam constituency from where she is standing for election. Jayalalithaa, 63, doesn’t step out of the van or even use the contraption that allows her chair to be lifted over the roof of her vehicle. The enthusiastic assembly gets a short glimpse of the former actress, an even shorter speech, and bright smile. Srirangam, she says, is the home of her ancestors, and Tamil Nadu is ruled by a “rowdy crowd” that must be ejected from power. After hours waiting, it is all over in 10 minutes. The assembly melts away, satisfied.
Beyond Srirangam and just off the spankingnew national highway linking Tiruchirapalli to Thanjavur lies the hamlet of Puthukudi. As in the rest of the delta, rice is the main crop here and poll freebies the main topic of discussion. The promise by the DMK and the AIADMK of free rice to the poor is particularly galling to the farmers who grow the crop. The Cauvery delta is part of the region known as Chola Nadu, the granary and cultural heartland of Tamil Nadu.
Farmers Unhappy with Govt
The Chola kings ruled here for hundreds of years, sustained and nurtured by the life-giving Cauvery. They were patrons of religion and the arts, and the prosperity generated by the land enabled them to under-take a frenzy of temple-building , each more magnificent than the other. But now, many farmers believe the government is doing all it can to break their backs. Economic Times