Mukkulathor and Mutharaiyar, a backward caste community, Nagarathar and the Scheduled Castes make up the main caste composition.
All eyes will be on Sivaganga in southern Tamil Nadu where Congress nominee Karti Chidambaram will battle it out in a triangular contest in the Lok Sabha seat held by his father P Chidambaram seven times since 1984. A nail biting finish is in the offing in view of the tough contest among Karti, BJP national secretary H Raja and the candidate of TTV Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK).
Mukkulathor and Mutharaiyar, a backward caste community, Nagarathar and the Scheduled Castes make up the main caste composition. Apart from them, Muslims and Christians are also among the electorate spread across the vast constituency falling under Sivaganga and Pudukottai districts. A visit to a number of villages in the constituency revealed that a section of Mukkulathor, the traditional supporters of the AIADMK was oscillating in its choice between the ruling AIADMK’s ally BJP and rival AMMK.
AIADMK top leader O Panneerselvam, AMMK leader Dhinakaran and his party candidate Therpogi V Pandi belong to the Mukkulathor community. Also, with several AIADMK cadres at the local level now siding with AMMK, it has virtually widened the scope for a split in the anti-DMK and anti-Congress votes. Both the Congress and BJP bank on their Dravidian allies’ organisational strength to win the seat. DMK and AIADMK has alliance with Congress and BJP respectively.
Requesting anonymity, some Congress workers rued that the Sivaganga Lok Sabha ticket has been repeatedly going to one family for about 30 years, a reference to the hold of Chidambaram on the seat from 1984. The 47-year old Karti, who is facing corruption cases, is currently on bail. He has been maintaining that the cases were politically motivated.
On the other hand, Raja is perceived as accessible and well known. A local, whose view of supported by many, in Karaikudi said: “Raja is accecssible, well known, but infamous for courting controversies.” AMMK has aligned with the Social Democratic Party of India and hopes that it would give an edge in getting Muslim votes in the April 18 elections. While Karti’s main poll plank is voting out Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Raja is wooing the voters saying P Chidambaram had not addressed issues facing the constituency despite being a union minister for a long period during the Congress regimes.
The only issue for the people in the polls was about dislodging Modi from power, Karti told PTI. Raja slammed P Chidambaram for “not addressing,” the issues of industries, including closure of textile mills in Sivaganga, when he was a minister. He said such issues mattered a lot for the people. AMMK’s Pandi alleged P Chidambaram faced widespread resentment among the people and Raja was a “divisive” personality and both parties cannot nurse hopes for a win.
In the 2014 elections, Karti, on his maiden electoral foray, was comprehensively defeated here while the AIADMK had wrested the seat. The AIADMK, DMK, Congress and the BJP had then contested the elections with smaller allies. For the electorate, which is spread out in the Assembly segments of Sivaganga, Thirumayam, Alangudi, Karaikudi, Tiruppattur, and Manamadurai (Reserved), lack of jobs at the local level tops the list among the polls issues.
Sitting under tree shade on the fringes of the sleepy Vengavayal hamlet, village elder and a retired rice mill worker Seena Karuppasamy complained rice mills do not employ local people anymore. “Labourers are brought from Bihar and Jharkhand forcomparatively paltry wages. They work and live within the mill compounds,” he told PTI.
Other kinds of sources of employment, including farm related tasks, were neither regular, nor remunerative, he added. The number of rice mills too dwindled over the years, he said and rued that several men have to travel far away for jobs. On steps for job creation during his father’s tenure both as a Minister and an MP, Karti cited initiatives, including setting up a BHEL facility at Thirumayam. Besides, he also listed out several other development and welfare projects undertaken by his father.
Power Plant Piping Unit, a new manufacturing unit of BHEL, was setup in 2011 at Thirumayam. AMMK candidate Pandi is not ready to buy the argument and alleged,”you must understand that Chidambaram was Sivaganga MP for about 30 years. Also, Chidambaram had been a Central Minister for several years and held various portfolios. Considering such aspects, no big ticket project really useful for the local people were brought for our region.”
Local youth like C Nagarajan and others alleged the BHEL unit does not give adequate opportunities to the local youth and a “large number of employees are from other states.” Despite repeated attempts, BHEL officials were unavailable for comments. On the accusation against him by his rivals and some locals that he was not accessible, Karti replied “how have you now accessed me…? this is Goebbels propaganda… there is no truth in it.”
Among other issues, the people of Neduvasal who had for long protested against the Hydrocarbon project seek reassurance that the initiative will not be pursued. They also complained about relief package being not commensurate with the damages caused by cyclone Gaja. Such factors are expected to have a bearing on the choice of voters in this belt which falls under Alangudi Assembly segment.
Karti in his campaign focuses on his party’s showpiece scheme of ‘Nyay,’ asserting it will be a game changer in the lives of poor. Also, he assures village women folk of lowering the cable television charges to enable them watch their favourite soap operas. Raja’s campaign, though has references to national security, is not to the extent seen in BJP’s campaign elsewhere in the country. He speaks more of local issues, promises implementation of Cauvery Gundaru River linking project, making Sivaganga a textile hub for spurring employment opportunities.
Sivaganga has more women electors and number 7,84,513 as against 7,65,811 elgible men voters. The third gender account for 66. Though 26 candidates including Kamal Haasan-led Makkal Needhi Maiam’s Kavingnar Snekan are in the fray, the main contest is among the Congress, BJP and the AMMK.