R Priya is all set to become Chennai’s first Dalit woman mayor since the corporation was established 334 years ago. The DMK has nominated her for mayor’s election in Greater Chennai Municipal Corporation, where it has a majority.
The indirect elections for the post of mayors, deputy mayors in corporations and chairmen in municipalities and presidents in panchayats will be held on Friday.
Priya, however, will be the third woman mayor for Chennai after Tara Cherian (Congress, 1957-1958) and Kamakshi Jayaraman (DMK, 1971-1972).
In the Greater Chennai Corporation, the DMK has 153 councillors of its own out of the total 200 wards. With allies, the ruling party has another 25 councillors. As the government is going for indirect elections, Priya’s election on Friday to the top post in the city is a formality.
Contesting an election for the first time, Priya, 28, was was elected as councillor from ward No 74 in Chennai’s Thiru-Vi-Ka Nagar in the urban local body polls held on February 19. Thiru-Vi-Ka Nagar in the northern region of Chennai is one of the least developed areas of the city — people living in congested buildings with poor infrastructure.
She has an M Com degree but has been closely associated with politics since her father R Rajan is a DMK functionary who has been with the party from 1987. Priya joined the DMK when she was only 18 years old. Priya is filling large shoes as the current chief minister M K Stalin (1996-2002) and health minister M Subramanian (2006-2011) have had stints as Chennai mayors. Rajan’s father said that for his daughter the duo will be her role models. “She feels like she has a huge responsibility and service to fulfil,” said Rajan. Priya was away to do work for her nomination on Friday.
Since late former chief minister J Jayalalithaa brought in 50% reservation for women in local bodies, partymen’s wives, sisters and daughters began to be fielded. In several instances these men still ran the show while the women councillors were present in the council hall only as tokenism. It remains to be seen how Priya would handle this issue.
The party also announced that M Mukesh Kumar will be the deputy mayor of Chennai.
Before Priya, the last mayor of Chennai was AIADMK’s Saidai Duraisamy (2011-2016) who had a tumultuous relationship with late chief minister J Jayalalithaa. After the council’s five-year term ended in 2016, there were no polls to the urban local bodies until last month.
DMK’s young, educated to be mayors, dy mayors
The DMK-led coalition will form councils in all 21 municipal corporations as they have absolute majority.
Besides Priya, several other educated youngsters will hold these coveted posts. As many as 20 councillors are undergraduates and 11 are post graduates who will be mayors and deputy mayors. 42-year-old Dinesh, who pursued his masters in Australia, will be the Mayor of Tiruppur Corporation, while 36-year-old Mahalakshmi Yuvaraj, who quit Infosys will be the Mayor of Kanchipuram.
And not just in Chennai, the municipal corporations of Tambaram and Avadi, which adjoins the city will also have mayors from the SC community after the DMK reserved these seats for the marginalised community as part of its social justice plank. K Vasanthakumari will be the Tambaram mayor, G Udhayakumar will be the first mayor of Avadi. In all, 11 women from the DMK will hold the post of mayor and 5 women will be deputy mayors.
In Coimbatore, the stronghold of the BJP and which falls within the western belt-the stronghold of the AIADMK, DMK’s choice is a person from a humble background A Kalpana. Her deputy mayor will be Vetriselvan who won from ward no 92 where AIADMK strongman S P Velumani (informally dubbed as Coimbatore chief minister) lives.
The DMK also allotted the posts for one mayor post, two deputy mayors, 6 chairmen and 11 vice chairman of municipalities and 8 presidents and 11 vice president of town panchayats to Congress, their main ally. Congress named Saravanan, an autorickshaw driver, as the mayor candidate in Kumbakonam. Other allies CPI (M), CPI, MDMK, and VCK each got a deputy mayor post.