Raja and Maran by his side, Karunanidhi matches Jaya crowd for crowd in Trichy

              Karunanidhi rested for the next two hours before leaving for the Trichy grounds for a rally. Outside, thousands thronged the venue, where Jayalalithaa too had addressed a rally a week earlier. . In his hotel room. Arun Janardhanan

As M Karunanidhi’s van reached his hotel around 4.30pm Wednesday, two faces stood out in the entourage accompanying him from Thanjavur. A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran, and the scams they got embroiled in as Union ministers, are leaders whom many DMK supporters would blame for the ouster of their party from power in Tamil Nadu.

Once Karunanidhi mounted his motorised wheelchair and was taken to the first floor, Raja organised a brief puja session in room 106, metres from that of Karunanidhi — who asserts his party’s rationalist views and who once asked if Lord Rama was an engineer. As Raja and a dozen others stood with folded hands, a priest from Srirangam temple led the prayers. Srirangam is a Brahmin-populated seat that elected Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in 2011. There is a wide view that Jayalalithaa has avoided contesting again from Srirangam because it turned out to be a bad omen. “The priest had come to meet Kalaignar but he gave him an appointment after 6:30pm. As he had to return to the temple, we had the prayer session for Kalaignar’s health in this room,” said a local leader.

Karunanidhi rested for the next two hours before leaving for the Trichy grounds for a rally. Outside, thousands thronged the venue, where Jayalalithaa too had addressed a rally a week earlier.

As the DMK’s Trichy Thiruverumbur candidate, Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi, began speaking, over 40 leaders including candidates from neighbouring seats took the stage, with Karunanidhi and wife Rajathi Ammal in the middle. Poyyamozhi started to compare his leader and the party to a catamaran, which won’t topple in high tide no matter how many are on board, but the applause from 50,000 people drowned his metaphor.

Trichy is seen as a region whose character is secular and gives an equal chance to the DMK, the AIADMK and even Vijayakanth’s DMDK. People in this central region are largely farm workers — the majority of the OBC-Mutharaiyer community, with sizeable Muslim and Dalit populations. The middle class depends on half a dozen PSUs.

Karunanidhi started his speech thanking K N Nehru, a former minister and the party’s face in Trichy. At 92, he speaks spontaneously, though the metaphors no longer sound effortless. “Trichy will never ditch me, so I came here,” he said. It capped five straight days on campaign, starting in Chennai.

Local leaders claimed half the crowd were DMK followers but admitted many others were paid Rs 150 to 200 to attend the rally. “We couldn’t supply biryani,” said one leader. “Cooking it in such a large quantity would have caught the EC’s notice.

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