Closure of granite quarries has left 20,000 jobless in Madurai

Known for being a political hotspot since the days of the freedom struggle and more notably the ‘Temple Entry Movement’ led by A. Vaidyanatha Iyer in 1939 with his Dalit friends, this Parliamentary constituency is set to face a six-cornered contest in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has fielded its candidate after a decade for the Madurai seat. The other main contenders in the race include the Congress, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), actor Vijayakant-led Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) as part of the BJP-front, Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M), and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Equations based on caste and community — an important factor in winning elections here — have changed over the years. For instance, the number of Saurashtrians, who voted en bloc and once three-lakh-strong, has come down considerably after a good chunk of them migrated to other districts in search of better jobs. In the same breath, steeped in its historical and cultural past, Madurai suffers from a lack of industrial development. The closure of granite quarries for alleged irregularities after the former District Collector, U. Sagayam, exposed a massive Rs.16,000 crore scam in granite units in and around Madurai, has left nearly 20,000 workers without jobs for the last 18 months.

Ambitious plans to turn the district into an IT hub have largely remained on paper till date, while the dry Vaigai river bed is a grim reminder of the acute water scarcity people are grappling with in this part of the State.

Interestingly, it was the election of M.K. Alagiri, recently expelled from the DMK, in the 2009 polls that enabled a representative from this constituency to find a berth in the Union Cabinet after three decades. The earlier Minister from Madurai in the Union Council of Ministers was R. V. Swaminathan of the Congress.

Despite the DMK dismissing him for anti-party activities, the ‘Alagiri factor’ refuses to die down, what with his role as an MP from Madurai still a talking point. It is thus no easy ride for present DMK candidate V. Velusamy.

While plans for expanding the airport and other infrastructure were ambitious, implementation was tardy in the last five years. However, Mr. Alagiri is credited with shifting the wholesale vegetable market from near the historic Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple to ‘Maatuthavani,’ helping ease a four-decade-old congestion problem.

Comprising the six Assembly segments of Melur, Madurai East, Madurai West, Madurai South, Madurai North and Madurai Central, the AIADMK, which has fielded R. Gopalakrishnan, Deputy Mayor of the city corporation, is banking on the slew of freebies provided by the Jayalalithaa regime, besides the immensely popular low-cost eateries, ‘Amma Unavagams.’ The AIADMK leader’s constant refrain that it was her party which ‘freed’ Madurai from ‘rowdy Raj’ in the 2011 Assembly polls has been reinforced now in her campaign.

The CPI (M) which has fielded B. Vikraman, after AIADMK had snapped ties with the Left parties, seeks to build on its popularity with the working class here. He has in his campaign given top priority to job creation and infrastructure.

Despite the BJP unit in Madurai being disgruntled, the DMDK, which has been given this seat in the BJP-front, seems to have an edge, with its candidate D. Sivamuthukumar projected as ‘son of the soil’ who is ready to work for the constituency.

The number of first-time voters here has exceeded 50,000 as of January 2014. This has given a toehold to new entrants like the AAP, which has fielded a chartered accountant, M. Kamacis, amongst the youth. A transgender and well-known social activist Bharathi Kannamma has also jumped into the fray. The Congress has put up a local lawyer, T.N. Bharat Nachiappan, leaving the battle for Madurai open ended.