Mangalam starts her day as early as 7 am. A resident of Chepauk, she runs a fast food stall in a market in Triplicane. Once a buzzing place, the stall is now empty. Ever since the Covid outbreak, she hardly gets any business. “Our income has been greatly impacted since March last year. Added to that, inflation has taken a toll on our livelihood. Prices of LPG cylinders have increased by more than Rs 200. The little revenue we get goes into the extra money we now have to spend to purchase cylinders,” Mangalam said.
She hopes that if the DMK comes to power, their problems can be solved.
“We don’t want a free washing machine. Most of the freebies don’t work. The mixer we got didn’t work. All we need is the next government to reduce the prices of fuel, cylinders, and all essential commodities. This will be helpful for the working class,” Mangalam said.
Farhan, an 80-year-old local, said, “Since Karunanidhi’s era, the DMK has done a lot of good things for the Muslim community. We will vote for the DMK.”
Udhayanidhi Stalin, the grandson of M Karunanidhi and son of MK Stalin, is making his electoral debut, choosing to contest from the seat his grandfather won three times. Pitted against PMK candidate AVA Kassali, Udhaya appears to be the frontrunner.
Chepauk is a multicultural melting pot. With a high proportion of Muslims, this densely populated area was among the key regions where the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act took place in Chennai. Inhabitants of the area say this still is an electoral issue.
“We are not going to vote for the AIADMK,” Hameeda Khan said. “We still remember the fact that the AIADMK backed the Centre on the Citizenship Amendment Act in Parliament. CAA will be a key point for Chepauk. My younger brother participated in the protest against CAA. Our family is against the Act.”
Many residents we spoke to said they would vote for the DMK. A majority of them hope that if Udhayanidhi is elected to power, he will help the living conditions of the working class.
“There were massive CAA protests last year and residents from here (Chepauk) participated. Even the police were against us when we protested. We had to call off the demonstrations after the lockdown was announced. We don’t want the BJP and its ally (AIADMK) to win in the state,” said another voter, Abdullah.
The AIADMK’s reversal of stance on the CAA is one of the talking points for Udhayanidhi. The ruling party had earlier batted for the controversial legislation but later declared that it would urge the Centre to scrap the law. Some voters say the AIADMK’s flip-flop smacks of insincerity.
“My grandfather and father have to run from pillar to post to get the certificate. They are really worried. A lot of people here have participated in protests. AIADMK now promises to urge the Centre to drop CAA. This is just an electoral plank,” said Moheedeen.
The Chepauk constituency has always been a DMK bastion. Even during the times when the party fared poorly in polls, it managed to hold on to this seat since 1977, except for 1991 when J Jayalalithaa swept the elections after she became the AIADMK chief. The seat was held by J Anbazhagan but he died in August 2020 due to Covid.
The AIADMK has allocated this seat to the PMK. PMK candidate AVA Kasaali is confident of winning this time. “Yes, Chepauk has been a DMK fortress. But this time, it will become an NDA fortress,” he told News18.com.
Kasaali agreed that it is a tough fight for him but adds that the people of Chepauk have many grievances and that they are not happy with the DMK.
“I have been meeting every single person in this constituency. Many of them have told me the issues they have in this constituency. Some of them even told me that the DMK MLAs have always ignored their plight and never helped them. This time, they (DMK) will be taught a lesson by the residents of Chepauk,” Kasaali added.
An autorickshaw driver from the same constituency, Suresh, said, “My children have to travel to other places to play. There is no playground or park in this area. Whenever we have requested the DMK MLA, he told us that his party is not in power and therefore he cannot do much. We will vote for the AIADMK hoping that our pleas will be fulfilled by them.”