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Migration of labourers, Tamil nationalism key issues here

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R. Ilangovan

Rapport enjoyed by Congress with the masses seems to be on the wane

SALEM: Large-scale migration of labourers and emerging Tamil nationalism have taken centre-stage in the campaigning in this mineral-rich constituency, relegating the vital people-centric issues to the background.

Delimitation has transformed the previously predominantrural constituency into a highly urbanised one. Before the exercise, it had Salem I and Salem-II, Yercaud (ST), Omalur, Veerapandi and Panamarathupatti. Now, Salem West, Salem North and Salem South, Veerapandi, Omalur and Edappadi form the redrawn constituency.

An exodus of labourers and farmhands, especially from Omalur, Danishpet and Taramangalam blocks to nearby States has left a deep scar on the region’s socio-economic profile. The worst hit is the farming community, small and medium land-holders, and scores of tiny and small industrial units.

The constituency’s industrial sector has its cup of woes full to the brim. Power holidays have nearly decimated the power looms and garment units in Magudanchavadi, Ilampaillai and Edappadi unions and silver anklet and starch and sago units in Salem, Mallur and neighbouring areas, throwing many on the streets. The price hike has been crucial to this labour-dominated region.

Agriculture is in distress. Rains have been playing truant in recent times. Farmers have come to grief as the irregular power supply and tardy mechanisation have almost ruined their livelihood. Ripe paddy fields in Edappadi, Veerapandi, Vazhapadi and parts of Attur blocks can be seen even this late in the season, waiting to be harvested.

Harvesting machines are in high demand. “They have been taken to Andhra Pradesh where the yield is rich and remuneration higher. While we pay Rs.900 per hour, they pay Rs.1,300 per hour,” says C. Vaiyapuri, president of the United Farmers’ Association. Waiting means more losses with an average of 10 per cent of yield loss per acre.

Even the few farm hands available in villages, especially women, are being lured away by the National Rural Employment Generation Scheme (NREGS). The majestic Stanley reservoir across river Cauvery, situated in the district, irrigates an insignificant 16,400 acres here.

On the urban side, in Salem city, many development works, including the IT Park for which the Chief Minister laid the foundation stone some two years ago, are yet to take shape. A modern airport has been lying dormant for a long period on the city outskirts.

Overflowing drainage and mounting garbage heaps have rendered the civic body a virtual non-entity.

Poll boycott declared

The DMK-PMK alliance, which was considered instrumental in bringing many mega projects such as Super Speciality Hospital and Salem Railway Division, has today inherited the dubious sobriquet of ‘spoilers’ after their split. Some villages and tribal habitations have declared poll boycott demanding potable water and basic amenities.

On the Lankan Tamils issue, the Congress is being projected as a “betrayer” and the electorate, mainly first-timers, seem to have taken the bait. Fringe outfits have stuffed the constituency with propaganda materials and CDs on Sri Lanka, virtually vitiating the poll atmosphere.

Inter-factional rivalry within the Congress has caused bouts of embarrassment.

It has now been left to the DMK strongman Veerapandi S.Arumugam to shoulder the entire campaign responsibility for Congress candidate and TNCC president K.V.Thangkabalu, who is seeking re-election. But he exudes confidence. “These forces cannot defeat Congress. You wait and see,” says the former Union Minister.

The Congress has won six times here since 1957. Neither the birth of Dravidian movement in nearby Erode nor the renaming of the Justice Party as Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) in Salem could make much of a dent in the electorate’s loyalty to the Congress.

But the rapport with the masses seems to be on the wane today. What appeared to be a runaway victory at the beginning has transformed into a bitter battle.

AIADMK’s S.Semmalai, a former State Minister, is depending on the alliance arithmetic and Jayalalithaa’s assurance on Tamil Eelam. “We have already won the battle,” is what his close confidantes claim. DMDK’s R. Mohanraj at present remains a distant third in a field of 23.

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