The reserved Parliamentary constituency’s proximity to the famous Courtallam waterfalls, which tourists from far and near visit to enjoy a rejuvenating bath and its salubrious climate, has virtually made Tenkasi a household name across Tamil Nadu and in neighbouring States.
However, visitors might be annoyed over the poor infrastructure facilities, despite sharp rise in the number of tourists thronging this region every year and crossing this part of Tamil Nadu during ‘Ayyappa Puja’ season in thousands of vehicles.
The constituency that starts from Tenkasi to end at Srivilliputhur along the Western Ghats, comprises the Assembly segments of Tenkasi, Kadayanallur, Vasudevanallur (Reserved), Sankarankovil (Reserved), Rajapalayam and Srivilliputhur (Reserved). It is arguably one of the most beautiful and fertile constituencies of Tamil Nadu.
Yet, the economic conditions of people in this region, which shares a border with neighbouring Kerala via Puliyarai, has not changed much.
After the 2008 delimitation exercise, Alangulam and Ambasamudram Assembly segments, which were earlier with Tenkasi (Reserved) constituency, had been annexed to the Tirunelveli constituency, while Rajapalayam and Srivilliputhur (Reserved) Assembly segments in neighbouring Virudhunagar district have been amalgamated with this constituency, reserved for Scheduled Castes, who constitute 15 per cent of the total electorate. The other communities – Thevars (12 per cent), Nadars (8), Muslims (5) and Yadavas (4) – also have a significant presence in this constituency.
The Indian National Congress (INC) has been the most successful party here for decades, as it had won Tenkasi on nine occasions consecutively since 1957. Though this once-bastion of the Congress continuously elected INC candidates between 1957 and 1991 to the Lok Sabha and the candidate of G.K. Moopanar-led Tamil Maanila Congress, an erstwhile splinter group of the Congress in 1996, particularly late Union Minister M. Arunachalam on six occasions, the electorate are unable to digest the reality as to why all the MPs let their voters down over the years.
Consequently, in recent years, the constituency has slipped out of Congress’ hands and the electorate have started reposing faith in candidates of other political outfits such as the AIADMK or the CPI in the subsequent polls. But nothing much has changed in Tenkasi, as none of the new faces took any concrete and laudable measure to improve the living conditions of people and to strengthen the social infrastructure of this backward segment where agriculture is the predominant profession.
A cross-section of voters is pained that despite the ‘Arunachalam era,’ Tenkasi, as a reserved constituency, did not get anything significant to improve the living conditions of the electorate even after he had become the Union Minister for Industries. Elders of this constituency, who repeatedly happened to hear his poll promise of setting up a ‘perfume factory’ at Tenkasi with the prevalent floriculture, recall that they had been “taken for a ride” by their MPs.
The inordinate delay in completing the Rs. 300-crore gauge conversion project between Shencottai and Punalur due to paucity of funds; Centre’s step-motherly treatment towards allocating funds for development of Courtallam; invasion of wild animals into cultivable lands close to the Western Ghats and consequent man-animal conflict which has claimed several lives; lack of cold storage for preserving flowers, lemon and grapes being cultivated around Puliyangudi and Kadayanallur; poor sanitation across the constituency; lack of industrial investments; absence of rail over-bridge on Rajapalayam – Chathrapatti Road; ailing cotton-based industries and cotton cultivation; the declining powerloom sector of Sankarankovil and delay in laying Watrap-Varusanaadu ghat road are some of the grievances being aired by the electorate here.
In the Lok Sabha poll, a multi-cornered contest is in the offing. The Dalit leader and Puthiya Tamizhagam (PT) founder, K. Krishnasamy, is re-contesting as the DMK’s ally this time.
The AIADMK has fielded Vasanthi Murugesan, wife of the former MP from this constituency, S. Murugesan, while the CPI has re-nominated its sitting MP, P Lingam, hailing from Rajapalayam. The Congress, which has been left behind after the ‘Arunachalam era,’ has fielded Dr. Jayakumar from Kancheepuram, even as the MDMK, which is contesting with the backing of the BJP and its allies, has named T. Sadan Thirumalaikumar, a physician from nearby Vasudevanallur and former MLA, as its candidate.
Analysts point out that with Dr. Krishnasamy having polled sizeable votes in the last four Lok Sabha contests from here, this time the Dalit leader is hopeful of taking the lead with the help of the DMK and its other smaller allies like the Muslim party, Manidhaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK), if only he retains the votes he got in the past (one lakh plus votes in each of the last four elections) and build on it now.
At the end of the day, Tenkasi continues to mirror an interesting facet of how the Dalit dynamics plays out in what used to be a Congress stronghold for long.