TAMIL NADU

Anti-incumbency, dissensions haunt candidates

Handlooms and powerlooms, whose clatter is an indicator of the buoyant economy of this arid region, have now fallen silent. Starch and sago industries face an uncertain future. Water scarcity is acute. Rasipuram is confronted with a plethora of problems.

The dilution of the concept of `welfare state' and the indiscriminate opening up of the economy are among the major factors, which have crippled the once-buoyant economy of the Rasipuram parliamentary constituency, say affected weavers and industrialists.

Highly labour-intense and primarily rural-based, the constituency with 11.70 lakh voters, boasts of innumerable weaving industries, both power looms and handlooms and starch and sago industries. But the citizens feel that no worthwhile efforts have been taken to withdraw CENVAT (Central value-added tax) and remove other hostile factors, which have maimed the weaving industry. Tapioca farmers suffer, not getting a remunerative price for the produce, thanks to liberal import of starch from Thailand and Vietnam.

Following the weaving industry, the starch and sago industry has fallen on evil days, throwing thousands of labourers and farmers out on the streets. The fallout can be seen in the Talaivasal, Attur, Rasipuram and Chinna Salem (Villupuram district) Assembly segments.

Senthamangalam, which has an indigenous population and is one among three Assembly segments reserved for tribals in the State, faces searing drought and acute scarcity of water. Namakkal (SC) is the only urban segment in the constituency, which has fewer problems.

The Dalits, second major caste group after Vellala Gounders, remain disenchanted. Welfare schemes have not reached them fully.

Dalits in many villages in the Rasipuram and Senthamangalam blocks resorted to frequent agitations for water and other basic needs.

The All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam candidate, S. Anbazhagan, is working overtime on the field to overcome the adverse conditions created by drought. Though water scarcity is equally acute in Attur and Talaivasal (SC), the concrete steps initiated by the Salem administration have minimised the damage in these two Assembly segments, which come under that district.

But Mr. Anbazhagan is confident of winning. A grass roots worker since the days of the AIADMK founder-leader, M.G. Ramachandran, he pins his hopes on `Amma's charisma and his cadre-based field work. He promises development works, including expedition of the Salem-Karur broad gauge line, construction of a bridge at Vangal and a cold storage plant at Namakkal. He has also plans for comprehensive tribal development. "We start with an advantage of pass marks."

While Mr. Anbazhagan is sweating it out to tide over the anti-incumbency wave, the Congress candidate, K. Rani, a former Tamil Maanila Congress MLA from Talaivasal, is devoting most of her campaign time to mollify a few of party colleagues who persistently create troubles. Even a recent co-ordination meeting among the alliance partners ended on an unsavoury note. An embarrassed Rani had to intervene and request the concerned to "forget and forgive."

But she is optimistic. She says "the strong alliance and people's resentment against the present regime" give her an edge. She dismisses dissensions as ``tiny pockets of nuisance,'' which have to be ignored. "The alliance partners and Congress cadres are working for my victory. The Dalits, said to be a traditional AIAMDK vote bank, have decided to vote for us this time," claims Ms. Rani. Her thrust is on providing drinking water to all villages and hamlets.

For Mr. Anbazhagan, a former Namakkal MLA and former Chairman of Tamil Nadu Adi Dravidar Housing and Development Corporation, Rasipuram is not an alien ground. In 1980, he lost to the Congress' Devarajan, who was MP for five times successively since 1977.

The TMC's Kandasamy won the 1996 elections, while the AIADMK's V. Saroja won in 1998 and retained the seat in 1999, defeating S. Udhaya Arasu of the Pattali Makkal Katchi by a margin of 38,405 votes.

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