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Multifarious issues for the electorate

By P.V.V. Murthi

The Arakkonam Lok Sabha constituency, which had been a Congress bastion since Independence, went to the erstwhile Janata Party in the historic 1977 elections in which the Congress was unseated from power at the Centre for the first time after Independence. P. Ramachandran, hailing from Cheyyar, who was Energy Minister in the Morarji Desai Government, was the successful MP.

The subsequent elections saw the Congress and the breakaway Tamil Maanila Congress recapturing and retaining the seat.It was in 1998 that the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won the seat for the first time, with C. Gopal emerging successful. In the 1999 snap poll, S. Jagathrakshakan, contesting on the DMK symbol emerged victorious, defeating both K.V.Thankgabalu of the Congress and A. M. Velu of the TMC, which has since merged with the parent party.

In this election, the AIADMK has fielded N. Shanmugam, former Sholinghur MLA, against R.Velu of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). Arakkonam is one of the six constituencies where actor Rajnikant has appealed to his fans to work against the PMK candidates. But the PMK cadres dismiss the Rajni factor, saying the actor's fans are there are in every party.

Multifarious issues are facing the electorate of this constituency, comprising the Assembly segments of Arakkonam, Sholinghur, Ranipet, Arcot (all in Vellore district), Pallipattu (Tiruvallur) and Cheyyar (Tiruvannamalai). Nearly 2.4 lakh weavers employed in 20,000 powerlooms are going through a bad patch. For, master weavers have scaled down production in the wake of a slump in lungi sales caused by a price hike. The price increase was necessitated by the levy of a 10 per cent central excise on lungis and a 9.2 per cent Central value-added tax (CENVAT) on hank yarn.

A chronic problem is tannery pollution, causing contamination of underground water affecting not only agriculture but also drinking water supply in villages in the Ranipet and Arcot Assembly segments. Admitting the prevalence of the problem, Mr. Shanmugam says the AIADMK Government is seriously considering a permanent solution, conveying treated effluents through giant pipelines for being discharged into the Bay of Bengal.

The industrial belt of Ranipet is no longer a prestigious destination for the technically skilled, as a large number of industries in SIPCOT (State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu) and SIDCO (Small Industries Development Corporation) industrial estates have been closed for lack of finance and prevalence of the `inspector raj'. The small and tiny industries in the SIDCO estate are reeling under a heavy power tariff. Thirty per cent of the production cost goes to foot the power bill, they complain.

Mr. Velu has promised to address the problems of the sick industries and powerloom weavers. He says he will take up with the Centre changing the policy of allowing cotton export, which has resulted in shortage in the domestic market, affecting the powerloom industry. Mr. Shanmugam has also promised to address the problems of the weavers, by getting CENVAT and central excise on textiles removed, and to facilitate the setting up of railway-based industries in Arakkonam, utilising vast railway land available.

The Cheyyar segment too has problems, unattended for many years. The people there are aggrieved at the State government's `decision' to give up the project of establishing an industrial estate at Cheyyar.

Another major grievance is the absence of a bypass road to ease congestion on Gandhi Road, main bazaar area, what with frequent accidents occurring there.

The AIADMK is likely to lose considerable Muslim vote, as the community is dissatisfied with the National Democratic Alliance government over the BJP's stand on the Babri Masjid and Ram temple issue.

S. Sethumadhavan of the Makkal Tamil Desam is also in the fray, hoping to cash in on Yadhava votes.

About 26 per cent of the electorate are Vanniyars and the PMK is counting on this population.

Dalits constitute about 24 per cent; Mudaliars and Muslims, about 15 per cent each, and other communities 20 per cent.

Total electorate: 11,56,929 (men 5,65,252 and women 5,91,677).

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