The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam candidate and Chief Minister Karunanidhi's son M K Azhagiri is contesting the Lok Sabha polls for the first time and the party has rallied it behind him but his controversial image, coupled with local issues like the price rise and power cut, may affect his prospects.
Once labelled a "by-election specialist", Azhagiri, who steered the party to victory in three by-polls in Madurai district since the DMK came to the power in 2007, has himself taken a plunge from Madurai now against main rival and sitting MP of the Communist Party of India-Marxist P Mohan.
Azhagiri, who has courted controversy very often, says he is in the field according to the "direction of the party high command". Already, the candidate of the CPM, a constituent of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led front, has lodged complaints with electoral authorities about money distributions by the DMK among voters, in the build-up to this election on May 13.
Acting on the complaints, a three-member team of the Election Commission held a review meeting in Chennai and directed the Tamil Nadu government to transfer Madurai Police Commissioner K Nandabalan following the complaints of money distribution. However, Karunanidhi quickly jumped to the rescue of his elder son, saying Azhagiri was facing a threat from the Marxists.
For the DMK, the election here is a prestige issue for Karunanidhi himself as a victory or defeat here will reflect accordingly on his position. "So far as Annan (Azhagiri) is concerned, it is a fight for prestige. It is a life-or-death battle and so we are leaving no stone unturned", a party functionary said.
Leaving nothing to chance, Azhagiri too is trying hard to drum up support. He is reminding people of the welfare assistance given on his birthdays and promising them to undertake development work in a large scale if voted to power. But his controversial image poses a challenge, political observers feel. Azhagiri has often been accused by the Opposition of acting like an extra-constitutional authority.
He was also an accused in the murder of former DMK minister T Kiruttinan but was later acquitted by the court. He was again in controversy when Tamil daily "Dinakaran", owned by the Maran brothers (Kalanidhi and Dayanidhi) who are grand nephews of Karunanidhi, was attacked allegedly by zhagiri's supporters in Madurai.
The violence erupted following a survey in the newspaper that projected Karunidhi's younger son M K Stalin as his heir apparent over Azhagiri, which caused a strain in relations between the two families though both have patched up now.
On the other hand, CPM candidate P Mohan, who is contesting for the Madurai seat for the third time, is known for his "clean image". Image apart, steep rise in prices of the essential commodities, bus fare and power cut may go against the ruling DMK in Madurai, the observers say.
However, Muthukumar, a farmer of Kottampatti, reveals the role of money here. "Many People in the constituency are expecting money. They have wild dreams and they expect Rs 1,000 to 5,000 per vote. But they have got information that they will not get that much," he said. Before being ordered to be shifted by the EC, Police Commissioner Nandabalan had also admitted that money was being distributed among voters.
However, DMDK leader and actor Vijayakanth, who has been campaigning for his candidate Kaviyarasu here, has a different take on the alleged money distribution. He is asking people to accept the money but vote according to their conscience. The analysts say, despite attack on his image, the DMK candidate can seek comfort from the fact that some minor parties, including the one led by Muvendar Munnetra Kazhagam (the Sridhar Vandayar faction), are supporting him.
A few caste associations had also been assured by the DMK that their grievances would be looked into after elections. Asked about Vijayakanth, both the AIADMK and the DMK shot back: "Are people serious about Vijayakanth? He is yet to prove his credibility."