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Watch Daniel Lak's report
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Friday, 3 September, 1999, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
South India takes its place
boats
A day at the races in Kerala
By Daniel Lak in southern India

In the backwaters of Kerala in southern India, it is the culmination of the snake boat racing season, the Nehru Cup.

Once they took the boats into battle - 150 paddlers pounding the water.

sinking
Not making it to the finish line
There is no war to fight these days, but the competition is intense and fierce, the remnants of a unique martial culture.

Kerala is one of India's more advanced states, proud of its top ranking in literacy and health.

On Nehru Cup day, everyone shares in the thrill of victory, and the agony of not even making it to the finish line.

Proud heritage

One paddler said: "Even if we're poor and don't have enough to eat, we have to race. It's part of our culture."

fishremen
Fishing is crucial to the economy
On the docks outside the wholesale fish market in Cochin, Kerala's main city, there is not much evidence of that poverty or unemployment.

Fishing is crucial to the state's economy; no part of Kerala is more than a hundred kilometres from the ocean, and people here have been mariners, fishermen, explorers for thousands of years.

Fickle politician

In the state of Tamil Nadu, local language cinema has produced the two of the region's most influential politicians - the late M G Ramachandran and his leading lady, Jayalalitha.

It was the success of the outgoing Hindu nationalist BJP in the state, largely thanks to an alliance with Jayalalitha, that propelled the party and its allies into power after the last election.

actors
The silver screen
Notoriously fickle, she is now supporting the Congress leader Sonia Gandhi.

But at what was billed as their first rally together in Tamil Nadu some weeks ago, Jayalalitha didn't show up - angering Mrs Gandhi and disappointing an adoring crowd.

South asserts its role

Jayalalitha's former ally, the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, has made common cause with her bitter enemy - a Tamil Nadu chief minister who once regarded Mr Vajpayee's party as anti-Muslim and dangerous to social harmony.

temples
Proud cultural renaissance
But this is politics - Tamil Nadu-style; today's friend is tomorrow's foe, and what matters is getting out the vote.

Steeped in a proud Hindu past, the south is becoming ever more relevant to modern India.

From the backwaters of Kerala, to the coastal temples of Tamil Nadu, India¿s southern politicians are among the most influential and assertive in the land.

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See also:

23 Aug 99 | South Asia
Congress 'sore over Jayalalitha insult'
30 Aug 99 | South Asia
Warning over campaign rhetoric
19 Aug 99 | South Asia
Gandhi faces tough fight
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