A. Raja and L. Murugan locked in a keenly watched battle in the Nilgiris

Lokesh Tamilselvan of the AIADMK could divide the votes, riding on the familiarity of the party’s ‘two leaves’ symbol; NTK’s A. Jayakumar is also in the fray. Activists say none of the candidates has declared his policy initiatives to address the key problems in the constituency

April 05, 2024 06:48 pm | Updated April 06, 2024 06:46 am IST - UDHAGAMANDALAM/COIMBATORE

The Nilgiris Lok Sabha constituency is witnessing one of the keenly watched battles between A. Raja, the incumbent DMK MP and former Telecom Minister, and L. Murugan of the BJP, who is the Union Minister of State for Fisheries. This will be the first time that Mr. Murugan, who was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh, is contesting from here.

When you throw in the wildcard, Lokesh Tamilselvan of the AIADMK, there is a good chance that the election will go down to the wire. Also in the fray is A. Jayakumar of the NTK.

Assembly segments

This Lok Sabha constituency comprises six Assembly segments: Udhagamandalam, Coonoor, Gudalur, Avanashi, Bhavanisagar, and Mettupalayam. Mr. Raja, the winner in 2009 and 2019, has steadily built support for himself in the district after relocating here when his home constituency, Perambalur, was dereserved after the delimitation exercise. While he was defeated in 2014 in the backdrop of the 2G scam (since acquitted in the case), he has been reaching out to plantation and construction workers, as well as the Badagas, the single largest ethno-linguistic group in the Nilgiris.

However, his staunch criticism of the Hindu right wing and recently of Sanatana Dharma has dented his support, primarily among the Badagas, who for the last few elections have been voting increasingly for the BJP.

This shift in support was evident in the 2021 Assembly election, wherein R. Ganesh of the Congress defeated M. Bhojarajan of the BJP only by a few thousand votes. Mr. Murugan, who has been building a strong support base here over the last few years, has been on the campaign trail, highlighting the achievements of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. He has been criticising Mr. Raja for his “anti-Hindu speeches”, and has promised to bring about development and jobs to the ecologically fragile region.

Meanwhile, Mr. Tamilselvan could split the votes, riding on the familiarity of the AIADMK’s ‘two leaves’ symbol.

Activists point out that none of the candidates has declared his policy initiatives to address the key problems in the constituency. S. Manogaran of the Coonoor Consumer Protection Association flags negative human-animal interactions, and raises the need for a sustainable tourism model to benefit local communities; waste and sewage management for Udhagamandalam and Coonoor; and minimum support price for tea and better financial support for agriculture.

The lack of a proper sewage treatment system in Coonoor and Udhagamandalam manifests itself further downstream, at Mettupayalam. Residents near the Bhavani River bridge have been voicing concerns over the deteriorating quality of the water in the Bhavani. A water quality assessment, done by the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board in 2016, revealed that potable water, sourced from the Bhavani and supplied to approximately 1,50,000 residents at Mettupalayam, was contaminated. Elevated levels of faecal coliform, indicative of human and animal waste contamination, rendered the water bacteriologically unsafe. Astonishingly, this contaminated water continues to be distributed to the residents.

Lack of infrastructure

Despite the start of work on an underground drainage system in 2017, at a cost of ₹91.7 crore, large areas of Mettupalayam still lack proper infrastructure, especially piped water supply.

Notably, A.D. Colony, inhabited by approximately 500 Arunthathiyar families, is without an underground drainage system. The disparity is glaring, given that the neighbouring areas to the north and the south have newer connections.

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