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National - Elections 2004 Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Candidate Watch

'Bader Sayeed, AIADMK candidate, South Chennai'

Lawyer and educationist, Bader Sayeed, first grabbed the headlines when she was recently named the first woman Chairperson of a Wakf Board in the country. "She [the Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa] took a very courageous decision to put me in the Wakf Board."

The move attracted criticism and raised eyebrows, but Ms. Sayeed was not cowed down. In her view, the Chief Minister had given her a task and she was going to make the most of it. "I have turned the Wakf Board around and made it into a more respectable Board."

Now comes the next big break for Ms. Sayeed, whose earlier stint in politics was limited to a brief association with the Tamil Maanila Congress.

Ms. Sayeed's big break came unexpectedly when her ex-schoolmate, Jayalalithaa, named her the AIADMK's candidate for the prestigious South Chennai constituency. "I have always been interested in politics ... in being part of the decision making process in this country. I joined the party in 2001," she says.

Ms. Sayeed and Ms. Jayalalithaa went to the same convent school, Church Park. But she insists that this had absolutely nothing to do with her nomination. Ms. Sayeed maintains: "She has chosen me for my competence as well as my honesty and integrity. She thinks I will be a good candidate for Parliament. There are so many people who went to school with her and studied with her. But she chose me. I am very honoured by this."

During the previous AIADMK regime, she headed the State Minorities Commission (1991-95). She has involved herself with issues in the Muslim Personal Law, with human rights problems and the legal aid panel. She had devoted a good deal of attention to women's needs — which remain neglected at different levels — be it in the government or in civil society.

The ease with which she carries herself around campaigning — in an open jeep or door-to-door — and the manner in which she interacts with a wide cross-section of society stand out as proof that Ms. Sayeed is no stranger to public life or social service. It helps that she runs a non-governmental organisation and has been involved in various women upliftment activities in the city. "Wherever I go, people list their problems and seek my help," she says.

What are her plans for South Chennai? Improve infrastructure, make drinking water available everywhere, she says. "I will stand up for water for Tamil Nadu. No matter where it has to come from." It does not seem to bother Ms. Sayeed that she is contesting from a constituency that is regarded as a traditional DMK stronghold. Also that her main rival is T.R. Baalu, a political heavyweight, a former Union Minister and a former south Chennai district DMK secretary. Mr. Baalu won this constituency with relative ease in 1999, when he was opposed by a Congress candidate. He also won comfortably in 1998, when he was pitted against the former Bharatiya Janata Party president Jana Krishnamurthy.

However, Ms. Sayeed remains unfazed when confronted with South Chennai's electoral past and with Mr. Baalu's electoral reputation. "Heavyweights can crumble anytime. It does not bother me," she says. Ms. Sayeed displays a quiet determination when she says that she will not level false allegations against her opponents. "They say that I have been campaigning in mosques and dargahs. This is completely untrue. Why are they levelling these charges," she asks, adding that this only suggests that the DMK candidate was losing ground.

Talking about her family, she says that neurologist husband, Zaheer Ahmed Sayeed, has stood like a rock behind her. "He has supported me in all my endeavours," she says. Her children and grandchildren, all settled abroad, have been of tremendous support, she adds.

- R.K. Radhakrishnan

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