Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXX No. 22, March 16-31, 2021
The two stalwart rivals of the past – J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi. Pictures courtesy: The Hindu Frontline.
(The forthcoming elections will see parties sweating it out at the hustings as usual. What makes it interesting is that this is a poll sans the two stalwart rivals – M. Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalithaa. At our request, Induja Raghunathan, Editor, YourStory Tamil, sent us this account of a happening in 2006 which highlights the working style of one of the two, now silent, titans.
It is quite common for party offices to bustle with members taking important decisions after the announcement of election dates. In TN, this has usually meant the two major leading political entities, the AIADMK and DMK negotiating with alliance partners for seat allotments . Characteristically, the DMK took many days to consult with party members and arrive at a consensus. But with the AIADMK, though negotiations did happen, the ultimate decision was always taken by Jayalalithaa.
During the 2006 Assembly elections I was a reporter with Sun TV. I was assigned the Congress beat and was following the party waiting for its announcements. The negotiations between the DMK, the Congress and the Communist parties was taking time after which the final list would be announced one by one. The AIADMK, MDMK and VCK negotiations were also taking place at the AIADMK headquarters at that time and nothing was finalised.
It was on one such day that I was leaving home from the office at around 7 pm and suddenly received information from my source that the AIADMK candidates list was to be announced soon. I informed my News Editor but he was sceptical. With negotiations nowhere near completion, where was the question? He nevertheless asked me to check the status at Poes Garden (Jayalalithaa’s residence) without taking my camera crew.
I went there immediately on my TVS Excel. The place was pitch dark and silent. The entrance to the road had a check-point barricade and the policeman on duty allowed me in after seeing my Press ID card. I drove on and parked my bike near Jayalalithaa’s house. There were very few AIADMK party members wandering there and there was none of the usual commotion that accompanies the release of candidates’ lists. But I trusted my source and slowly walked towards Amma’s house and knocked gently on the gate.
The security person came out and enquired. I introduced myself as a press reporter and asked him about any press releases on candidates lists. He stared at me and said that nothing was happening but he wanted to know from where I was coming. I very well knew what would happen next if I said I was from Sun TV, so I had to act smartly, and said I was from an English news channel. Thankfully since it was dark, he couldn’t recognise me and luckily our camera crew was not around too.
It was then that I got a hunch that the news was true. I had to somehow get the candidates’ list. It was breaking news and there were just 30 minutes left for our news bulletin (those days it was not live, but recorded). But then my heart skipped a beat when the security asked for my visiting card. I randomly searched my handbag and luckily found one of a female journalist working for an English news channel. I handed it over to him and stood there waiting impatiently. I was terrified about being identified as a Sun TV reporter and was making plans to run away from there once I got the list.
Within five minutes however, the security was back, with the list. I was so thrilled to see the paper in his hand. Having thanked him I walked away and then leaped a few steps as fast as I could to call my editor and confirm the news. The news room started gearing up immediately for the story. The headlines changed.
I was asked to read out the important candidates’ names and their constituencies, as there was no time to reach office with the list and there was no whatsapp those days. I sat on the platform and started reading with the torch light from my cell phone illuminating the sheet. While this was going on I saw around 10 to 15 AIADMK members heading towards me seeing the list in my hand. I was very tense about two things now. One I had to give the news as soon as possible and two, the fear of being caught.
But fortunately, nothing like that happened. Instead, they offered help. While one person held the torch light for me to read out the list, another was wanting to know from where Amma was contesting the election. Somehow I managed to read the list in 10mins and announced shouting aloud, “Jayalalitha – Andipatti”. When I noticed a party functionary glaring I immediately changed to “Amma is contesting from Andipatti”. A man came running towards me with a handful of chocolates. Poe’s Gardens suddenly sprang to life with party members driving in. Meanwhile, our news desk telecasted the candidates list flashing it as headlines.
That was Jayalalithaa’s style – even as alliance negotiations and seat-sharing talks were happening she was daringly releasing the candidates’ list in parallel.
(PS: When I was about to leave on my bike who should come rushing in but a male reporter from the same English Channel whose visiting card helped me to get the list. He waved and asked me to wait till he collected the list. Realising what could happen I vanished.)