It was an obama-esque “Yes, We Can” moment for the onlooker. The exultation was not really one of celebration, but of hope. And, in the narrow lanes of Akkarapettai fishing habitation here, that hope was palpable.
A day after the AIADMK's Nagapattinam MLA from this village, took charge as the fisheries minister, the fisherfolk here feel revived. “She will to get us back Katchatheevu,” says 60-year-old Thayalnayaki, a fisherwoman. Fisherfolk have always remained the traditional vote bank for the AIADMK.
On Tuesday, with the 45-day fishing moratorium in force, there was an evident austerity in the not-so-ubiquitous, sparing congratulatory posters, and a lone hoarding for K.A.Jayapal, the man of the moment, from an otherwise ostentatious, celebratory fishing community here.
Each time, Nagapattinam constituency returned an AIADMK MLA, Amma has come to power; say a group of workers at the boat-building yard, in the inner recesses beside Keechankuppam bridge. It was R.Jeevananthan, from North Poigainallur in 2001, who was the backward classes Minister; and earlier it was R.Kodimari, from here in 1991. And the first of the rewards have come, with the Chief Minister hiking the compensatory allowance from Rs.1,000 to 2,000 per card-holder for the moratorium period. It is like a shot in the arm. “For the first time, a fisherman, who lives amidst us and has a keen understanding of our problems, has been made the fisheries minister,” says Kesavan, a 27-year-old mechanical engineer from Akkarapettai.
For Mr. Jayabal, his popularity hinged on his pro-activeness at the Panchayat level for close to two decades, and his ‘clarity of understanding of issues” has struck a chord with the locals. He was the district secretary of the fisheries wing of the party at the time of his election.
“The DMK had consistently doled out concessions for agriculture, but we had to fight for three years to have our Tsunami-boat loans waived,” Kesavan was one of many youth here who formed networks and kept night-vigils to prevent clandestine ‘cash-for-votes' in Akkarapettai. “It is a vindication of sorts for the countless sleepless nights we endured,” he says. Interestingly, Akkarapettai and Keechankuppam were brought under the Keezhvelur constituency, while depriving Mr.Jayapal of a higher margin, ensured the CPI(M) candidate's victory in Keezhvelur constituency.
It is more than access to power; it is about visibility and getting heard. “Next time, when a boat carrying out fishermen goes missing, we do not have to wait for officials to pass it on to the government. Now, we have our man in the Ministry,” say the boatmen.
With no grand expectations, the fisherfolk here seek guarantee for life, and dignity, when out in the sea. And of course, that promised Katchatheevu. “We never had any alternative occupation, we do not know anything else than fishing.”