After winding up dubbing for That Four Letter Word around 2 a.m. and getting home around three, the last thing you want to do is to take off to the heartland of Tamil Nadu to get a feel of the election mood. More so, when you’ve been asked to follow Captain on his election trail from Chidambaram to Vriddhachalam just as summer peaks.
Suderman left home sleepless at 4 a.m. for an adventure that covered over 600 kilometers in 15 hours, spending six hours and 127 kilometres with Captain’s convoy, stopping every few kilometres on battered roads and coming face-to-face with Captain’s fan base in the remotest of villages.
Meanwhile, I have uploaded the pictures: Watch the slideshow here and click on the pic to read the captions.
Here goes the account of what happened:
A few kilometers outside Chidambaram, people have come out of their huts and lined up along the road. They know that Captain Vijayakanth would pass that way. Soon enough, a little boy bursts a cracker. Another has a wardrobe malfunction, he hastily fastens his button-less trouser as the convoy approaches.
There’s a sense of urgency as the first car in the convoy, asks people to clear the road. “We don’t have permission to stop here. Please forgive us but you can see Captain from there,” says the speaker from the Tempo Traveller, the third vehicle in the convoy. Seated next to him, Captain waves.
Captain’s convoy has six vehicles in all, including the security bus, the CB-CID personnel following him and his private multi-utility vehicle. Only two cars for party workers. “We have told party workers not to join the convoy. We don’t want to flout election rules. We told them that if they follow, we will not stop the police from seizing the vehicles,” says Captain’s aide.
A few metres away, there’s a huge group of people who plead him to stop. Captain gets out and tells them they don’t have permission to stop, apologises and makes a quick one-line request with folded hands: “I promise you change, help me.”
10.20. After a long stretch of battered roads, he stops at his first stop for the day, Kumarachi.
Within seconds, hundreds of people surround his convoy as Captain emerges from the top of the vehicle. “This is my first time here and what good roads you have,” he says in sarcasm as the crowd cheers. “I heard that the roads have been this way for 15 years. This road, a short-cut connecting Chidambaram to Trichy has been like this for years and you keep voting for the same people?” he adds. “It’s been 20 years since MGR died. Both these parties remember his name every election and you blindly vote for them?”
“Keep the relief aside and think for a moment. Do you have roads? Do you get good ration rice? Do you get water? I have not been idle since September. I’ve been talking to people to understand your problems. Your problems can be solved with inter-linking of local water-bodies. You have five classrooms and two teachers. How is this ‘Porkaalam’?” he said criticising the ruling government, as a party worker goes around with a Dictaphone asking them if that speech is reason enough to vote.
“Why would you now vote for Captain when you’ve been voting for the big two parties all these years,” he asks. “For change,” answers the youth.
As he winds up campaign, a woman asks him to name her baby. “It’s not my job to name babies,” he says. They insist. Embarrassed at the moment, he names her Vijayalakshmi and gets into the vehicle.
As his convoy heads to the next stop, a funeral by the roadside is temporarily suspended as the mourners desert their chairs to rush to the road to get a glimpse of Captain.
Next is a Muslim dominated neighbourhood. Captain emerges out with the Muslim cap and says it felt like home-coming. “If I wanted to make money, I would traded suitcases for alliances. Please vote for my brave decision to go alone … We will not discriminate on the basis of caste or religion,” he says during his stop at Lalpettai, his second pit-stop after Yelleri. “I don’t have to tell you about the other two parties. Watch Sun TV and Jaya TV and you will know what they have been doing,”
At the Kattumannarkoil stop, he’s thronged by hundreds again. “I’m coming here alone without any alliances. The DMK and AIADMK have money power. I’ve come here hoping to win on people power. Don’t let me down,” he pleads. “They say I beg to the people. I say I should and must beg only to the people and not with political parties,” he adds as the crowds cheer again.
As he passes Palayamkottai, he sees huge groups of children in uniform along the road. Captain stops for a moment to enquire. “Do you know me,” he asks. The kids nod. “Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam,” a girl says out loud. “Not bad, you are in tune with politics. Don’t think about all that. Let all that be, study well now.”
“Why are you out in the sun? Have you all eaten?” The kids are thrilled at the gesture.
Outside the Srimushnam temple, he’s mobbed by hundreds, perched on rooftops and trees.
“I’m dark. You are dark. I stand under the same sun as you do,” he says as the crowd roars. Not once does Captain make any personal attack or even name political leaders. He prefers to criticize government and parties. “The DMK says they will give you rice for two rupees. They were in power the last term. Why couldn’t they give it then? I don’t want to lure you with such false promises. I’m not saying I’m going to bring the Himalayas here. I promise good basic amenities. I will get my symbol only on April 20. But I believe that even if get it only a day before the elections, you will remember it,” continues Captain.
As the convoy makes its way into his constituency Vriddhachalam, there are crackers (which Captain pulls up his party cadres for, asking them not to waste money on them) and fan-fare with a band playing and the town has come alive with people taking to the roads just to get a glimpse of the man. Suddenly there over a dozen cars added to the convoy. The roads are clogged with people and vehicles.
“I’ve come here to release my election manifesto in front of the temple, to the public. It will speak for itself. I will spend at five or six days here to talk to you. They asked me why I didn’t contest from Madurai and chose Vriddhachalam. It’s because I believe you are my own people, just like my people in Madurai.”