Lok Sabha Election 2019

A prestigious battle down south

People in Pearl City are hoping for development irrespective of who wins

With two high-profile candidates — DMK women’s wing secretary Kanimozhi and BJP State president Tamilisai Soundararajan —locked in a prestigious battle in the Thoothukudi Parliamentary constituency, people hope that irrespective of who wins it might translate into development, especially at a time when the industrial outlook is in tatters.

Both have promised jobs by bringing in industries, expansion of the seaport and the airport, and setting up of storage facilities for agriculture and fisheries. To woo the Devendra Kula Vellalar community, both parties have promised that their demand to bring seven sub-castes under one fold would be fulfilled. Going a step ahead, Ms. Soundararajan has presented an ambitious constituency manifesto, with proposals for projects including a bullet train from Kanniyakumari to Chennai via Thoothukudi, which her rivals have criticised as being ‘far-fetched’.

Ms. Kanimozhi has presented a no-frills manifesto with focus on basic infrastructure. She has promised desilting of tanks and construction of check dams to improve water storage, creation of a heritage circuit for tourists, completion of an ESI hospital project that was shelved, and groynes for the fisher community to prevent seawater erosion. Besides, she has promised to set up a rocket launch pad at Kulasekarapattinam.

On the ground, Ms. Soundararajan would have to shake off the perceived anti-incumbency sentiment against the BJP. And Ms. Kanimozhi is facing the challenge of countering attempts by rivals to project the DMK as an “anti-Hindu” party.

Last year’s anti-Sterlite agitation, in which 13 persons perished in police firing, is bound to influence voting patterns in the pearl town. In fact, not just the two VIP candidates, but others in the fray too have made it clear that they would not allow any polluting industry to be established in Thoothukudi. “The issue would certainly figure not just in Thoothukudi, but across the State. Today, the people are not choosing between good and bad, but between bad and worse. The killing of the protesters would definitely go against the ruling AIADMK-BJP alliance,” contends M. Krishnamoorthy, coordinator of Anti-Sterlite Tamils’ Federation.

The industry has its list of expectations from the candidates.

“The outer harbour expansion should be taken up, and the Sethusamuthram project should be revived. Night navigation facility and runway expansion should be completed at a fast pace at the airport, and steps should be taken to operate international flights. To improve railway connectivity, railway lines parallel to the East Coast Road should be set up. The ECR should also be converted into a four-lane road,” says R. Edwin Samuel, vice-president of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The Madurai-Thoothukudi Industrial Corridor should also be set up quickly, he adds.

Safety match and peanut candy industries, which were hit due to GST, have been seeking a reduction in tax rates. Despite promises by major parties, including the AIADMK, salt pan workers have yet to be given compensation during rainy season, points out G. Thamilarasan, district secretary of the AITUC.

Track record

Following delimitation, two Lok Sabha polls have been conducted, in which both the DMK and the AIADMK have won once each. In 2014, the AIADMK’s Jeyasingh Thiyagaraj Natterjee had won with a margin of 1.24 lakh votes, while in 2009, S.R. Jeyadurai of the DMK had won by a margin of 76,549 votes.

In the upcoming election, the transfer of votes from its alliance partner, the AIADMK, to the BJP is crucial. However, the constituency has a significant minority population and winning them over is a big challenge for Ms. Soundararajan.

The majority Nadar community, including Hindus and Christians, are likely to be divided along religious and ideological lines as both candidates are associated with the community.

Ms. Soundararajan has been working on the plank of “honest politics”, while the 2G scam in which Ms. Kanimozhi was acquitted is also being raked up by her rivals.

The other candidates in the fray include the AMMK’s M. Bhuvaneswaran, a lawyer hailing from Srivaikundam, and the Makkal Needhi Maiam’s T.P.S. Pon Kumaran, who is involved in the EXIM business.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 2:08:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/a-prestigious-battle-down-south/article26811687.ece

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