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TN has long history of political rallies that created varied impacts

Tamil Nadu has seen a good deal of such yatras that shook its political landscape over the last half a century.

CHENNAI: The Bharat Jodo Yatra to be undertaken by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi from Kanniyakumari on Wednesday might not be the first high-profile political rally to turn heads in the state. Tamil Nadu has seen a good deal of such yatras that shook its political landscape over the last half a century.

Like in most other issues in the five plus decade-old political history of Tamil Nadu, former DMK president M Karunanidhi had set the precedent long ago for using yatras to gain one-upmanship over political rivals. His “Long march for justice” in 1982 against the then AIADMK regime is the model yatra for contemporary TN politicians.

Demanding then chief minister MGR to release the report of CJR Paul Commission of Inquiry, Karunanidhi undertook a 200 km-long yatra from Madurai to Tiruchendur demanding justice for the mysterious death of Subramaniya Pillai, then HR&CE officer at Tiruchendur Temple.

Starting from Madurai on February 15, 1982, Karunanidhi who ‘leaked’ the commission report had reached the pilgrimage centre in eight days. It was in the subsequent Assembly debate that the state witnessed his interesting one-liner about the missing Murugan idol.

When an AIADMK MLA sarcastically remarked that even the god refused to meet Kalaignar and left his abode, a witty Karunanidhi retorted, “I thought only Murugan’s vel (trident) was missing. Only now do I learn that even the idol is missing,” leaving the house in splits.

MDMK general secretary Vaiko deserves a special place in the history of political-yatras in TN. Taking cue from Karunanidhi, Vaiko, who was a DMK functionary then, took a rally in 1986 in protest of the theft at Magaranedunkulainathar temple in Thoothukudi. After breaking ranks with the DMK, Vaiko, as the general secretary of MDMK this time, completed his next yatra from Kanniyakumari to Chennai in protest of the then AIADMK regime’s corruption in 1994.

Vaiko’s subsequent yatra was against Karnataka in the vexed riparian rights dispute. It was followed by his rally from Srivaikundam to Thoothukudi against the Sterlite plant in 1997. After completing another 42-day rally for river interlinking in 2004, the magnum opus came in 2012 demanding enforcement of total prohibition in the state.

Vaiko’s iconic meeting with Jayalalithaa on road

Vaiko undertook the yatra in three stages, starting from Tirunelveli in mid-2012. The second stage of the prohibition yatra would be remembered better for his encounter with then chief minister J Jayalalithaa on the middle of the road near Payyanur off Kancheepuram. The yatra against liquor had culminated at Pollachi in early 2013. Vaiko’s yatra spree continued later when he opposed the Neutrino project in Theni too.

Though the rest have not broken a sweat, as did Karunanidhi or Vaiko, leaders like MK Stalin and Seeman have also secured their place in the league of leaders who hit the streets to optimise political stakes. Incumbent CM Stalin undertook a few months-long Namakku Naamey tour, which was largely on campaign vehicles, to reach out to the voters ahead of the 2016 Assembly polls. However, the DMK lost the elections by a thin margin of one per cent votes.

Seeman, who has a habit of addressing open rallies, has also completed a couple of yatras to widen his party’s (Naam Tamilar Katchi) voter base. Even actor Kamal Haasan of Makkal Needhi Maiam had attempted to join the league by touring some districts prior to the polls before the kollywood beckoned.

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