Greenhorn politician and first time candidate ‘DNV’ Senthil Kumar comes from a family of businessmen deeply rooted in Dharmapuri
With an affable smile, he welcomed this reporter into the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) campaign office in the heart of Dharmapuri town. Surrounding the campaign office are buildings, diagnostic scan centres and marriage halls bearing the words ‘DNV’ or ‘DNC’.
Senthil Kumar is one of the younger Lok Sabha candidates in Tamil Nadu, and a surprise one at that, given a ticket by the Dravidian party for Dharmapuri. He will take on Pattali Makkal Katchi heavyweight Anbumani Ramadoss.
“I wanted a tough candidate,” chuckled Kumar. “Abumani and I studied in the same school – Montfort in Yercaud – though of course he is much senior to me. I am happy to be contesting against him.”
Senthil Kumar saw serendipity just after his candidature was announced, much to his own surprise, by the DMK leadership. “I just started it out of nowhere and it sort of clicked,” smiled Kumar. “Now it has become a trademark.” He is referring to his practice of hugging people who come up and greet him. Of course, he takes care to ensure that it is only men he pulls into a warm embrace.
This hugging candidate is worth millions. Hailing from a family of successful businessmen, Senthil Kumar is a radiologist by profession and runs diagnostic centres in Dharmapuri town.
He has a political legacy to fall back on as well. His grandfather DN Vadivelu Gounder was a Congress MLA in 1965. He is credited with a number of reforms in the district – making Dharmapuri the district headquarters when it was carved into a separate district, setting aside land for the government medical college and hospital in the heart of the town and ensuring that district administrators’ offices were all in the centre of the town.
“My grandfather DNV started off as a milkman, delivering milk to homes on a bicycle,” said Kumar. “Over a period of time, he brought together milk producers, helping them form co-operatives and regularised the milk business in Dharmapuri. When (former Congress Chief Minister) Kamaraj came to Dharmapuri to find a candidate for the MLA seat here, he called my grandfather and asked him to stand as a Congress candidate, because of the good will he had among the people. My grandfather was not even a member of the Congress then,” he said.
This was in 1965, when the Congress’ political graph in Tamil Nadu was on the wane. The DMK was all set to take over from the grand old party and storm the elections in 1967.
But in 1965, DN Vadivelu Gounder won the seat for the Congress with ease. His condition for candidature, according to his grandson, was that Dharmapuri should be made the district headquarters of the soon-to-be announced district. Kamaraj acquiesced and so it came to be.
Senthil Kumar is the first of DNV’s progeny to get into active politics. “I have been with the DMK for the past five years now. My father was not interested in politics. But I thought, we have such a great legacy from my grandfather and people will forget about him in a few years. That is when I decided to contest. I filed my application to the party for Lok Sabha candidature and was really surprised when I got it,” he smiled.
Kumar’s family as well as another branch in the family tree is ubiquitous in Dharmapuri. While Kumar is a descendant of DNV, there is another branch – DNC, or DN Chinnasamy Gounder – stepbrother of DNV.
“My grandfather’s mother died when they were young, so his father remarried and had children with the second wife,” explained Kumar. “But we are all a tight-knit family. The DNC group has grown 100 times more than the DNV group of businesses,” he added.
Descendants of DNC and DNV run tamarind marts, schools, hospitals, diagnostic centres, private buses, chit funds, rice mills, two-wheeler dealerships, marriage halls and a plethora of other businesses.
Kumar also says that his grandfather was one of the founders of the Vanniyar Sangam and in fact played a key role in bringing the Pattali Makkal Katchi’s S Ramadoss into the Sangam.
Senthil Kumar says he has a mind of his own and is unwilling to be a regular run-of-the-mill politician. “I won’t wear a white shirt and white veshti,” he said as an example. “Why should I? I wear shirts that I like and trousers. There is nothing wrong with that. I want a new brand of politics.”
This millionaire built a kindergarten when his son was born as there were not many good schools in Dharmapuri. Soon he will build a primary and secondary school as his son grows older and is debating which syllabus that school should follow.
If elected, he says, his priority is sanitation and hygiene, especially in schools. “I will ensure healthy and hygienic toilets in government schools,” he said. “There has to be free sanitary pad dispensers in all schools. Let the girls take 30-40 pads – what is the big deal if they take many? They are going to use it or other women in their homes are going to use it. There will be an endless supply of sanitary pads in government schools if I am elected,” he said.
Kumar also hopes to turn the Hogenakkal falls into an international tourist destination and is planning a SIPCOT near Chittheri hills where alternatives to plastic products can be made by the tribals living in the area. “This will provide employment as well as build an eco-friendly industry,” he said.
While Senthil Kumar faces a tough challenge against Anbumani Ramadoss, he is attempting to hug his way into an inclusive future – where voters cutting across caste lines see him as a leader.
But intra-party politics is a big threat to Kumar. DMK strongman and former minister EV Velu, a native of Tiruvannamalai, has thus far had control over Dharmapuri and the DMK workers there. Senthil Kumar refuses to kowtow to the powerful Velu. This could cause friction amongst cadre more loyal to Velu than a shiny new candidate.
Senthil Kumar, though tight-lipped about relations with Velu, says that he is enjoying politics thoroughly. “My father is having sleepless nights because of my campaign,” he laughed. “The whole family is working for me. I am sleeping soundly and living in the moment. I am a Mannin Maindhan (son of the soil) and that is what I want to tell the voters. My advantage is that I am a brand new candidate and a local who was born, brought up and live in Dharmapuri. That should count for something. Win or lose, I am going to enjoy myself,” he said.