Virudhunagar constituency is a classic example of how an industrious community can overcome the challenges of nature. From being an arid tract of the composite Ramanathapuram district, Virudhunagar has transformed into a vibrant industrial hub, housing world-class printing, fireworks and textile units. The district has produced two Chief Ministers —P. S. Kumarasamy Raja and K. Kamaraj. M. G. Ramachandran became Chief Minister after winning the 1977 Assembly election from Aruppukottai by a margin of 29, 378 votes against his nearest Janata Party rival M. Muthuvel Servai. But the constituency has always been in the news for the wrong reasons – employment of children in hazardous work and accidents in fireworks units. Prior to delimitation, it was Sivakasi Parliamentary constituency. The present Virudhunagar Lok Sabha seat comprises the Assembly segments of Virudhunagar, Sivakasi, Aruppukottai, Sattur (all in Virudhunagar district) and Tirupparankundram and Tirumangalam (in Madurai district).

An intense battle will be witnessed in the constituency where all the leading parties and alliances are in the fray. Two-time Member of Parliament (MP) from here,  Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) founder Vaiko is contesting for the fifth time. He faces sitting MP B. Manicka Tagore (Congress), P. Radhakrishnan of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), industrialist S. Rethinavelu of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and K. Samuel Raj of Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M).

Except for the DMK, all the contesting parties/alliances have held this seat in the last 10 elections. Caste equations will play a decisive role in poll outcome in this caste-sensitive region. Mukkulathors form around 30 per cent of the electorate, followed by Scheduled Castes, Naickers and Nadars. However, the Dalits are seen to posses the power to tilt the balance. Only Mukkulathors and Naickers have won from Sivakasi/Virudhunagar Lok Sabha in the last 10 elections. Candidates of the leading political parties belong to one of the top five castes of the constituency. Mukkulathors are in an upbeat mood after AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa presented a golden armour to the statue of Muthuramalinga Thevar at Pasumpon village in Ramanathapuram district on February 9.

Despite being industrially vibrant and an employment provider in non-agricultural sector, the constituency has problems for which solutions have not been found for long. Sivakasi, the cracker industry’s capital, hogged international attention after the 2012 explosion in Muthalipatti that claimed 41 lives. Post-Muthalipatti, government agencies swung into action to put in place a mechanism to regulate the fireworks industry. But the industry felt the heat with frequent inspections, suspension of licences and stringent safety measures. It also unsuccessfully challenged the new safety norms in court.

Some of the leading players have introduced mechanisation in hazardous processes to eliminate human involvement in the making of crackers. But the Rs. 4.33-crore Fireworks Research and Development Centre has remained unutilised for lack of scientists. Efforts are being made to hand over the facility to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to serve the cracker units. Industrialists feel that a special economic zone in Sivakasi linked to the Tuticorin port will boost export of crackers.

The State government’s proposal of setting up an industrial corridor along Aruppukottai-Tuticorin highway has brought cheers. An industrial park proposed by the DMK government near Sattur being a non-starter is a disappointment, says P. T. K. A. Balasubramanian, general secretary, Sattur Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The much-touted Tamiraparani drinking water scheme has not ensured daily supply of water to urban areas. Absence of government medical, engineering and polytechnic colleges and ITI in the constituency is a big disadvantage for students who have been consistently performing well in the Class X and XII examinations. The legal tussle over construction of a road over bridge on Ramamoorthy Road in Virudhunagar is a poll issue in the town.

Complaints of inadequate train facilities galore here, especially from areas coming under Manamadurai-Shencottah section. Despite Sivakasi being a major revenue earner for the government, a narrow road connects ‘Kutti Japan’ with four-lane national highway near Virudhunagar on the one side and Srivilliputtur on the other. Farmers of Sivarakottai, Swamy Mallampatti and Karisal Kalampatti are sore over the silence of the State government over setting up of a special economic zone over an area of 1500 acres of rainfed land. People would prefer a candidate who could improve the region’s infrastructure.