At 82, Durai Murugan is the DMK’s warhorse. Having fought his first election in 1971, he is in his fiftieth year of electoral politics. In his hot and dusty hometown Katpadi, Murugan starts campaigning by 8 am and can go on the entire day: covering a new street corner, a new village chowk every 10 to 15 minutes. His speeches are barely 10 minutes long. He sits down under shamianas to make a speech every now and then, age showing its effect. And he goes straight to the point — his promise this election is to bring a super speciality hospital and a separate Sipcot (industrial area) to bring jobs to the locals.
He knows that’s a big demand of the locals. Barely 130 kilometres from Chennai, this town has grown rapidly in development parameters. Since it is just along the highway to Bengaluru, it also has good roads and hotels, infrastructure that not many other towns can boast of.
Employment opportunities, particularly for graduates, are something that is on everyone’s minds.
“Our children have all studied up to tenth or twelfth. But they have no jobs. In this street, not a single person has ever got a government job,” says a woman residing in the area.
Her neighbour adds, “With difficulty, we have educated them with our earnings as daily wagers. There are even some graduates but with no job opportunities how will they stand on their own feet?”
Murugan, it seems, knows what promise sells every election. “I know each and everyone in my constituency. I can call them by name too,” he says, while observing that his opposing candidate is an outsider from a constituency about 30 kilometres away.
The DMK veteran has the additional advantage of being from the Vanniyar community, which is dominant in this region. Generation after generation has voted for him.
Asked about the criticism that he never makes way for youngsters, Murugan says he is ready to do so, but “they” (his party) are compelling him to continue another term. He adds, “Till my last breath I will fight elections.”
Durai Murugan’s rival in the constituency is V Ramu, an engineer who is fighting his first assembly election. “During the pandemic, yours was an MLA who went away with his family to the hills for a vacation instead of helping people,” he thunders in his campaign speech.
The AIADMK, which has fielded him, has been speaking out against the DMK on two main issues across Tamil Nadu — that of not helping during the pandemic and that of perpetuating dynastic politics.
In Katpadi, these are both issues that Ramu plans to milk to the maximum — Murugan’s son Kathir Anand, after all, is the MP from the same district, Vellore.
“One family occupies all positions in DMK, but in AIADMK it’s not like that. Even a small, root-level cadre can get to a big position,” he tells News18. He also says that the AIADMK government’s grant of an internal quota for Vanniyars just before the elections — and its tie-up with the Vanniyar-based party, the Pattali Makkal Katchi — may help him tackle the caste tangle.
Murugan’s repartee to that is quick: “What about O Panneerselvam’s family (deputy CM and AIADMK party chief coordinator) and D Jayakumar’s (minister in the AIADMK government) family? And go to Uttar Pradesh; what happens there? What about Bihar? Everyone points fingers at DMK only.”
On the streets of the bustling town, its residents are caught up with other, larger issues.
“Diesel rates must come down,” says a rickshaw driver, while another says he is tired of forgotten promises. “We will vote based on who gives us good laws,” he says. “It must be clear. Not idle promises.”