Lok Sabha Election

Once a textile hub, Madurai now yearns for industrial growth

Madurai district is generally seen as a stronghold of the Dravidian majors, more so of the AIADMK. However, when it comes to Parliamentary elections, barring the ones in 2009 and 2014, Madurai has elected candidates from the national parties or their offshoots in the remaining 14 polls, eight of which were won by the Congress and four by either of the Left parties.

B. Thirumalai, whose book Madurai Arasiyal chronicles its political history, says the trend was not incidental. “Congress’ presence was due to Madurai’s association with the freedom movement and the presence of leaders like ‘Madurai Gandhi’ N.M.R. Subbaraman and P. Kakkan. Left parties, on the other hand, had a dominant presence because of trade unions,” he said.

While the influence of the two parties has waned over the years, Madurai has remained a popular choice for them to contest elections as part of coalitions led by Dravidian parties, since they could capitalise on the small vote bank they have managed to retain.

The diminished presence of trade unions and the Left parties can be seen as an indication of Madurai losing the race in industrial growth to competing cities like Chennai, Coimbatore and Tiruchi. “Until the late eighties, there were at least 17 large-scale textile mills in and around the city,” Mr. Thirumalai recollects.

Arguing that lack of industrial growth remains the biggest concern for Madurai, S. Rethinavelu, senior president, Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says this, in turn, contributes to unemployment and caste-related violence. He claims elected representatives have failed to argue the case for the city at the right forums.

“A simple example is the long-pending demand to include Madurai airport in the Bilateral Air Service Agreement with other countries so that direct international flights could be operated here. This will aid industrial growth, particularly exports and tourism, and costs nothing, but has not been done,” he says.

A key project, which promised to bring industrial growth to Madurai and the southern districts, but remains only on paper, is the Madurai-Thoothukudi Industrial Corridor. In a meeting with industrialists here in November 2018, Minister for Industries M.C. Sampath said the project was being implemented as part of the Chennai-Kanniyakumari Industrial Corridor, and a Comprehensive Development Plan was ready. However, nothing much has happened since.

While Madurai is renowned for its malli, the demand to promote perfume-related industries and for the setting up of a research centre has yet to be fulfilled. The area in which malli is cultivated in the district is witnessing a gradual decline due to non-availability of adequate support.

With the proposal to construct an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and the presence of a few big multi-specialty hospitals, Madurai is now touted as a city with the potential to become a health hub. However, the inordinate delay in the construction of AIIMS, for which the foundation stone was laid only earlier this year, after more than four years of delay since the project was announced, has kept hopes low.

“To worsen the situation, demonetisation and the improper implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), has hugely affected the micro-, small- and medium-scale industries, which had a significant presence in Madurai,” Mr. Rethinavelu says.

Water woes

Another key issue is the shortage of water for drinking, agricultural and industrial needs. The State government recently launched a ₹1,150-crore project to augment the drinking water source for the city. “The focus need not be on such mega projects, but instead on improving local resources by rejuvenating Vaigai river and water bodies. This is an area where the funds available with MPs could be spent, but not many have done that,” Mr. Thirumalai said.

The CPI(M) candidate Su. Venkatesan, who is contesting as part of the DMK-led Secular Progressive Alliance, the AIADMK’s V.V.R. Raj Satyen and the AMMK’s K. David Annadurai are the key candidates among the 27 in the fray.

While the Mukkulathor community has a majority presence in the constituency, a unique feature is the considerable presence of the Sourashtra community, which is believed to play a significant role in swinging the elections.

Apart from its small voter base, the CPI(M) is largely banking on the support of coalition parties and Mr. Venkatesan’s credentials as a Sahitya Akademi Award-winning writer. Mr. Raj Satyen is the son of former Mayor of Madurai Corporation and serving MLA of Madurai North constituency, V.V. Rajan Chellappa, an AIADMK veteran. The party has a well-oiled organisational base, which it is leveraging to the fullest extent in the campaign.

However, it remains to be seen if the intra-party feud in the district, which came to light during the announcement of the candidate, would play spoilsport.

Mr. David Annadurai (AMMK) is the son of late AIADMK leader and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly K. Kalimuthu. He is expected to split a considerable amount of votes, particularly in places like Melur, where the party was launched.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2021 3:05:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/once-a-textile-hub-madurai-now-yearns-for-industrial-growth/article26786226.ece

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