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Ryots in low spirits, electioneering subdued

By S. Ganesan

Amid growing despondency among farmers and anxiety among city residents over a looming drinking water crisis, best symbolised by the parched Cauvery, the Tiruchi Lok Sabha constituency is all set to witness the first direct clash between the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

The continued drought, which has now put a question mark over the next kuruvai season too, can be a key factor in the constituency dominated by small farmers and agricultural labourers.

While the AIADMK is pulling out all the stops to retain the seat, which it won for the first time in the 2001 by-election caused by the death of Union Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, the MDMK too has much at stake, having fielded its presidium chairman, L. Ganesan. Though it promises to be a close fight, electioneering here has remained rather subdued. The searing heat seems to have had an impact on the campaigning.

The constituency has long been a stronghold of national parties, with the Communists and the Congress sharing the seat between themselves for nearly four decades from 1957 to 1998. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam tasted success only once during this period when N. Selvaraj won in 1980. L. Adaikalaraj, local strongman of the Congress, dominated the scene winning four elections consecutively from 1984.

It was the BJP's high profile Kumaramangalam, who brought an end to his innings, defeating him in 1998. Kumaramangalam's focus on development issues saw him re-elected in 1999.

Infrastructure development continues to be a prominent issue put forward before the urban voters and the rivals have been promising to pursue some of his unfulfilled projects such as laying a ring road around Tiruchi.

The BJP cadres, who were keen on cashing in on the goodwill earned by Kumaramangalam, have been maintaining a low profile after the party was denied the seat.

The Democratic Progressive Alliance is also faced with a similar predicament, having to contend with discontent in Congress ranks over denial of the seat to the party. Rampant factionalism in the district unit has only compounded the DPA's problems.

The MDMK, which does not have a strong base in the constituency, depends heavily on the allies, especially the DMK, and is hoping to ride on the crest of anti-incumbency. The AIADMK has been quick to pick on Mr. Ganesan being an "outsider" and the fact that he does not belong to the dominant Mutharayar community in the district. Mr. Ganesan has been at pains to counter the rival propaganda.

For the AIADMK candidate, M. Paranjothi, a former urban district secretary, the biggest challenge is to counter the anti-incumbency factor. He, however, had a head start in hitting the campaign trail and has already completed the first round of canvassing, focussing on the rural segments. He is counting on the AIADMK's traditional vote bank in the Musiri and Srirangam Assembly segments, but he has to contend with the disenchantment among the farmers.

With the rivals being equally matched in the other four segments — Tiruchi-I, Tiruchi-II, Lalgudi and Tiruverambur — Musiri and Srirangam have the potential to tilt the scales either way.

Following the recent summary revision, the total electorate in the constituency has come down to 11.91 lakhs (5,81,816 men and 6,09,629 women) from 12.24 lakhs during the 2001 elections.

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