The water crisis and encroachments on farmlands worry farmers most

The Nagapattinam Lok Sabha constituency, often seen as a Communist forte, will witness a multi-cornered contest in the coming election, with the Communists going alone for the first time since 1962 without aligning with either of the Dravidian parties.

In its wake, the political traditions of each of the six Assembly constituencies reflect significant, yet varied ‘micro narratives’ of the larger constituency in the tail end of the Cauvery delta.

Nagapattinam (Reserved) Lok Sabha constituency includes the newly-introduced Assembly constituency of Keezhvelur (Reserved) after delimitation, alongside the old constituencies of Nannilam, Tiruvarur, Thiruthuraipoondi, Vedaranyam and Nagapattinam.

Thiruthuraipoondi is referred to as the “heart” of the Communist support base by the people, as it was this constituency that returned a Communist Party of India (CPI) MLA in 1991, when the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) alliance was routed by the All India Anna Dravida Kazhagam (AIADMK)-Congress combine in the wake of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. Of the seven seats won by the DMK-combine then, one was by the CPI from Thiruthuraipoondi. This constituency has returned a CPI candidate 10 times since 1971.

In neighbouring Vedaranyam, traditionally seen as a DMK stronghold, politics is equally anchored in personality cults with the local bigwigs and their patron-client set ups. Its predominantly Vanniyar constituency of marginal landholders and wage labourers have traditionally aligned with the DMK. However, the personality-centric, patron-client political arrangements were evident in the breaking away of S. K. Vedarathinam, the three-time DMK MLA, after Vedaranyam was handed over to Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) in the 2011 Assembly election. The Vanniyar base failed to garner support for the PMK, and Vedarathinam came second as an independent candidate, fracturing the DMK vote base. This virtually handed out victory to the AIADMK, after three decades.

Nagapattinam, with the fishing villages, forms the traditional voter base of the AIADMK, and fishing community continues to draw its inspiration from M.G.Ramachandran. Its favourable disposition towards the ruling party remains intact in the wake of frequent attacks on fishermen. However, two main villages of Akkarapettai and Keechankuppan have been assigned to Keezhvelur constituency that is primarily a Communist Party of India- Marxist (CPI-M) stronghold.

Keezhvelur (Reserved), steeped in Communist tradition, has a large concentration of marginal farmers and landless wage labourers. Post-Keezhvenmani killings of Dalit wage labourers in 1968, this belt witnessed large-scale redistribution of temple and trust lands and, to date, this is a Communist forte. In 2011, the win by CPI (M) here was relished most by the party, pitched against U. Mathivaanan of DMK.

Tiruvarur draws its strength from its star representative in the DMK chief, M. Karunanidhi.

With an SC population of 32.95 per cent, followed by Vellalars, Mukkulathors, Muslims and fishing community, in that order, the predominance of farm labourers is high in this Lok Sabha constituency.

For the farmers and farm labourers, Cauvery water crisis, real-estate encroachments on farmland, methane exploration project and poor desilting of channels remain key concerns.

In sum, the stage looks set for essentially a three-way contest in Nagapattinam, notwithstanding the fact that some of the other parties are yet to announce their candidates. The triangular fight will mainly be among the CPI, AIADMK’s Gopal and the DMK’s A. K. S. Vijayan, its sitting MP, who has been re-nominated this time. Mr. Vijayan himself shares an interesting link with the Left parties as his father had worked for the Communist movement here. The pendulum could swing either way.