Virudhunagar, Apr 13 UNI | 3 months ago

Caste factor would play a key role in determining the fate of firebrand MDMK General Secretary Vaiko, who faces a tough battle in the Virudhunagar Lok Sabha constituency, which has produced three Chief Ministers, the late Kamaraj and MGR, besides O Panneerselvam, who is now the Finance Minister.

Vaiko, who lost in 2009 to Congress candidate B Manicka Tagore by a thin margin of 15,764 votes, is hoping to win this time with the support of BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) alliance. A two-time Member of Parliament from here, Vaiko is contesting for the fifth time.

He is facing a stiff competition from a confident Tagore, who is seeking re-election. Other candidates in the fray in the constituency, which has a total electorate of 14,23,360, including 7,18,746 women, were P Radhakrishnan (AIADMK), e Chairman of the Sivakasi Panchayat Union, S Rathinavelu (DMK) and K Samuel Raj of CPI(M).

The Virudhunagar constituency comprises the assembly segments of Virudhunagar, Sivakasi, Aruppukottai, Sattur (all in Virudhunagar district) besides Tirupparankundram and Tirumangalam (in Madurai district).

Having a distinction of producing two Chief Ministers, yet another distinction the district has is that AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran, popularly called as MGR, became Chief Minister after winning the 1977 election from Aruppukottai assembly constituency.

Caste equations will play an important role in poll outcome in this constituency, where dominant Mukkulathors form around 30 percent of the total electorate, followed by Telugu-speaking Naickers, Gavara, Kamma and Kambalathar communities, besides substantial presence of scheduled castes.

Only Mukkulathors and Naickers have won from the erstwhile Sivakasi and now Virudhunagar LS constituency in the last 10 elections. The raging power cuts, drinking water and unemployment too will be the key poll issues.

The long pending demand for establishing a Special Economic Zone in Sivakasi, known for fireworks and printing units, still remains on paper.

The fireworks factories in Sivakasi region alone cater to 98 percent of the country's demand for crackers.

"But, the fireworks industry is on the brink of collapse as some changes made in the clauses of the Explosives Rules 2008, were aimed at encouraging import of Chinese fireworks," members of the Tamilnadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers' Association said.

All the licensed fireworks factories were on an indefinite strike since March 5 to protest against an order of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry that unilaterally revised various fees, including license fee. About three lakh workers depending upon the industry were rendered jobless.

Drinking water scarcity is another major problem facing the constituency. The much expected Tamraparani drinking water scheme has not ensured daily supply of water to urban areas. Though Virudhunagar district had the distinction of producing cent percent pass in state board examinations, absence of government medical, engineering and polytechnic colleges is another disadvantage for this constituency.

DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi's estranged son and former Union minister M K Alagiri is likely to play a spoilsport for the DMK candidate, as he personally criticised his selection.

Vaiko appears to have an edge in the multi-cornered contest, as the toss up would be between him and Manicka Tagore.

Vaiko, who has been highlighting the Sri Lankan Tamils issue in his electioneering, said he would he would be the voice of the Tamils in Parliament if he was elected for a third term.

While Vaiko, who is banking on the strength of the coalition led by the BJP-led NDA and the Narendra Modi wave, Tagore sounded confident of entering the Lok Sabha for a second term, based on his achievements and the resounding success of the AICC President Sonia Gandhi's revolutionary National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NRGEA), that guaranteed 100 days of jobs for farmers in this drought prone district.

"Though the NRGEA scheme will be my poll plank in rural areas, which has about 800 polling booths, the caste factor will decide the outcome", admits Tagore, while talking to UNI after finishing his day time campaigning.

For urban areas, which has 700 of the total 1,500 booths, Tagore has adopted a different strategy. He has come out with a booklet highlighting his five year achievements as the representative of this constituency.

"It will be distributed to all the families in urban areas to enable them to know what I had done for the constituency in the last five years," he added.

Caste factor would play a key role with the dominant Mukkulathors have a vote base of six lakhs. Nadars form a vote base of about four lakhs. The Scheduled Castes and other communities make up the rest.

Dismissing the DMK candidate as weak, Tagore said Vaiko was banking on the Kamma Naidu community.

"The DMK votes will get split as it has not come to the election mood. This will benefit Congress," he added.

He alleged that of the Rs 148 sanctioned per day for the farmers, whose livelihood hinge on the NREGA scheme in this drought prone district, the Tamil Nadu government has been paying only Rs 100.

"I have been telling the rural voters to demand the government to pay back the balance Rs 48, which comes to Rs 4,800 per year," he said.

He said the BJP, if voted to power, will scrap this scheme and it was inevitable that Congress led by Sonia Gandhi has to retain power at the Centre to sustain the livelihood of the farmers. There was a lurking fear among the farmers that the BJP would shelve this scheme, which has more than four lakh beneficiaries in this constituency.

Tagore, who had been extensively campaigning for the last one months, said, "from now on everyday is going to be important. Managing the campaign will be the key to my success."

(Posted on 13-04-2014)