CHENNAI: The party shawls may be in demand as candidates rush about the city, with the local body elections round the corner, but for independent Mayor-hopeful Sarathbabu Elumalai, a simple plaid shirt tucked into a sober pair of trousers is the chosen attire. As if looking nothing like your average Tamil Nadu politician wasn't enough, his campaign is a far cry from anything the city has been accustomed to. Talking to City Express, just after he was alloted the study-desk symbol, he said, "I have realised that it is absolutely impossible for me to do a door-to-door campaign, when there are some 40 lakh votes to be won over," he admits frankly, "And that's why we have chosen alternative locations that are very relevant to our campaign," he adds. With a small team of volunteers, Sarath has been actively campaigning at (and outside) colleges, at IT parks, the local railway stations and other places that are frequented by the "young urban Chennai citizen."
Best known for his rags-to-BITS (Pilani) success story and his entrepreneurial venture Foodking, Sarath has continued his tryst with politics ever since he decided to try his hand in the Lok Sabha polls in 2009. From what was considered a "deposit-losing" venture bordering on bad humour, earlier Sarath's slate symbol managed a decent run in the Velachery constituency in the Assembly polls in April. And now, he has taken the plunge for the third time, as an independent again. This time, his eye is set on the big post - Mayor of 'newer and bigger' Chennai city. Except this time the numbers and support have grown considerably, "During the previous election, I hardly had any volunteers with me. This time, there is a dedicated team handling on-ground activities while another takes care of social networking and other media publicity," says the modest man.
And make no mistake about it, social networking is key to a youth-driven campaign like his, "My largest numbers are on Facebook where my 'Sarath for Mayor 2011' page has over 32,568 fans at present," and if that number isn't staggering enough, his target certainly is, "We are looking to raise the number of supporters on the page to three lakh before we go to the polls on October 17," he announces. With real-time updates and immediate announcements of where he is going to be campaigning, his followers on FB seem to be keeping him in good spirits. "This is the only way to bring youth into politics and break the monarchy of parties," he declares idealistically.
And occasionally, when party idealists do try to create a stir on his page by saying that only a slim margin on FB are eligible voters, he politely asks them to "put their analytical skills to studies and further their career." In fact, only after his mass online campaigning, did other mayor-hopefuls begin upping their social-networking presence. "One of the reasons I decided to contest for Mayor was because this is the first time that people, not councillors will be voting for this post," he explains. Another factor that could have spurred him on is that plenty of independents emerge triumphant in these ward polls. And what if he loses this time too? "We were third in the assembly polls, and how many ever times it takes, we will keep contesting till we win and make a change. If Lincoln can try eight times, so can we!" he says with a smile.