When he vehemently resisted the move to excavate the 72-km-long irrigation channel from Vellankuzhi to M.L. Thaeri in Sattankulam via Radhapuram on an outlay of Rs. 369 crore to take the surplus water of the perennial Tamiraparani for the benefit of these rain-shadow regions, P. Veldurai, sitting MLA of Cheranmahadevi, would not have dreamt that he would be fielded as a Congress candidate at Radhapuram, a Congress bastion once.
Now, the campaign being conducted by All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) cadres against Mr. Veldurai that the electorate of Radhapuram should not support the Congress candidate, who in the past dared to deny them drinking water, has reached a crescendo. And this kind of negative electioneering does have an impact over the Radhapuram voters and also on the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) men, it seems.
Though the Congress managed to get the Radhapuram constituency, from where its candidates were elected to the Assembly on five occasions (apart from this Kumari Ananthan's Gandhi Kamaraj Desiya Congress two times and Tamil Maanila Congress one time) since 1957, the national party is now struggling to get wholehearted cooperation from DMK cadres here for a range of reasons.
The foremost reason is that the winnable Radhapuram constituency has been given away to the Congress. Secondly, this national party's MLA, who opposed the digging of flood carrier channel for the benefit of Radhapuram residents, has been fielded as a candidate for Radhapuram and over 50,000 pamphlets explaining Mr. Veldurai's ‘war' against this scheme has already reached the hands of the Radhapuram electorate. Thirdly, he is being treated as an “outsider” while Mr. Veldurai's opponent and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam candidate S. Michael Royappan is regarded as ‘son of the soil.'
Problem for Mr. Veldurai worsened after he reportedly refused to garland the statue of Chief Minster M. Karunanidhi's parents at Radhapuram bus stand recently. Agitated DMK cadres abstained from active campaigning for a couple of days and they could be “pacified” only after 48 hours, party men say.
Most of the 25,000-odd RC Christian electorate in all 10 coastal hamlets of the district back Mr. Royappan since he is also a Roman Catholic, who managed to get over 18,000 votes in Radhapuram Assembly segment alone in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
The campaign being conducted by ‘Naam Thamizhar Iyakkam' in Radhapuram segment, particularly in the coastal areas, on the Sri Lankan issue, the killing of over 1.50 lakh Tamils there towards the fag end of the fight in the island nation, killing of over 500 Tamil fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy and the continuing attacks on the Tamil fishermen, has effectively mobilised the fishermen's anger against the Congress candidate. “We've got something more in store in our war against the Congress. Wait and see before the polls,” said an advocate affiliated to that forum.
Though gifting away of this constituency to the Congress owing to intra-party feud in the DMK has compelled the party office-bearers to go along with Mr. Veldurai during the election campaign, DMK cadres still keep a distance from the Congressmen.
“The Radhapuram constituency has received over Rs. 600 crore during the past five years for strengthening the social infrastructure. However, our high command chose to gift the sure-hit constituency away to the Congress after some self-styled office-bearers misguided our leaders. Now, the Congress has fielded a person who tried to prevent our people from getting Tamiraparani water. If our high command had fielded sitting MLA M. Appavu, he would have won the battle with a thumping margin. How can you expect us to support the Congress candidate against this backdrop?” a DMK panchayat president asked.
However, Mr. Veldurai hopes that the infrastructure created so far, the welfare measures, freebies and the latest assurance by the DMK on more gifts will certainly help him in the election.
While the farmers of this region are waiting indefinitely for the repairing of the Radhapuram channel, which can take water from Petchipaarai dam to 52 irrigation tanks, the fishermen are waiting for the construction of groynes in their hamlets as only this structure alone can shield these villages from the onslaught of the usually rough sea and also from tsunami.
Though the coastal hamlet of Uvari has already spent over Rs. 4 lakh for conducting a survey to ascertain the possibility of constructing a groyne in their village, the DMK government miserably failed to take it to the next level, the villagers feel.
Keywords: Tamil Nadu assembly polls