Assembly elections: Tamil Nadu

Complex scene

Print edition : May 27, 2016

AIADMK MP Thambidurai receiving a copy of the party manifesto from Chief Minister Jayalalithaa at Perundurai in Erode district on May 5. Photo: M. GOVARTHAN

AIADMK cadres in front of the party office in Kovilpatti. Photo: A. Shaikmohideen

MDMK chief Vaiko addressing the media in Puducherry on April 29. Photo: S.S. Kumar

DMK president M. Karunanidhi with State Congress president E.V.K.S. Elangovan at a public meeting in Tiruvarur constituency on April 25. Karunanidhi is contesting the seat. Photo: Bijoy Ghosh

DMK treasurer M.K. Stalin addressing a public meeting in Ramanathapuram on May 6. Photo: L. BALACHANDER

Anbumani Ramadoss, PMK leader, at an election meeting at Samayapuram in Tiruchi. Photo: A. MURALITHARAN

U. Vasuki, CPI(M) candidate for Madurai West, at Jaihindpuram in Madurai on May 1. Photo: R. Ashok

Overgrowth of "korai" grass at Koraiyaru in Tiruvarur district. The government's failure to deweed and desilt waterbodies is one of the issues that rankle voters. Photo: B. Velankanni Raj

With multiple fronts in the fray and several issues, from prohibition to power supply, at stake, the election scene in Tamil Nadu is making the guessing game difficult.

FOR a few hours on the morning of April 28, a carnival-like atmosphere prevailed on the main road in Kovilpatti town in southern Tamil Nadu. As hundreds of vehicles carrying supporters of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) thronged the road, high-decibel music and party propaganda songs filled the air. Outside the election office of Kadambur S. Raju, the party candidate seeking re-election from Kovilpatti in the May 16 Assembly elections, a colourful arch bearing a portrait of party general secretary and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa towered over the sea of party workers, entertainers, and propaganda vehicles. Traffic had come to a halt. AIADMK supporters waved the black-and-red party flag with the image of C.N. Annadurai, founder-leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and former Chief Minister, in the middle and the party’s election symbol of “two leaves”. Supporters of the ruling party’s electoral allies, waving their own party flags, converged on the election office, adding to the din.

A party functionary told this reporter that “Amma [Jayalalithaa] instructed all the candidates to file their nomination papers between 12:50 p.m. and 1:20 p.m. on April 28. She believes this is an auspicious time as per her horoscope and that this will ensure victory for the AIADMK. This is a record, for 233 candidates will be filing their nominations simultaneously at a particular time.”

Jayalalithaa filed her nomination papers on April 25 from the Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar constituency in Chennai. The AIADMK is contesting 227 seats and its minor allies are contesting the remaining seven seats on the “two leaves” symbol.

Kadambur Raju visited the Shenbagavalli Amman temple in Kovilpatti before filing his nomination papers. This correspondent waited on the main road expecting to see him accompanied by his entourage, but he materialised from a side lane. When asked about his election plank, he instructed one of his cadres to give us his propaganda pamphlet. It was printed on thick paper, and carried the headline in Tamil: “The historical projects implemented in the last five years during the golden rule of honourable Amma in the Kovilpatti Assembly constituency.”

Tamil Nadu is witnessing a six-cornered contest involving the ruling AIADMK and its six allies; the DMK-led alliance with the Congress, the Indian Union Muslim League, the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi, the Puthiya Tamizhagam and others as its constituents; the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK)-led People’s Welfare Front (PWF); the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK); the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)-led alliance; and the Naam Tamizhar Katchi, an ultra-nationalist Tamil party led by film director Seeman. The DMDK is led by its founder and film actor Vijayakanth. The PWF comprises the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) founded by Vaiko, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), a Dalit party which has a strong presence in northern Tamil Nadu. The PWF has projected Vijayakanth as its chief ministerial candidate and has promised voters that it would form a coalition government if it is voted to power.

Issues at stake

One issue that is being hotly debated across the State is prohibition. Be it Saroja, a vegetable seller at Chettymandapam near Orathanad in Thanjavur district; a group of Dalit women seated on the roadside at Indira Nagar in Periyakulam (reserved) constituency; the elderly M. Gopal, seated at a tea stall at Dasarayapalayam coming under the Avinashi constituency near Coimbatore; J. Shah Jehan, who sells sunglasses and helmets on the footpath near “Quarry Office” at Madukkarai on the Coimbatore–Palakkad highway; A. Kumar at Manapparai; or R. Das, DMDK councillor of Ulundurpet, the categorical demand is the closure of liquor shops run by the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC). Women are more vociferous in their demand. Mariammal of Indira Nagar in Periyakulam said: “These brandy shops have ruined most of the families.” Sumathy said: “If the TASMAC shops are shut down, Tamil Nadu will be clean.” The reason she felt so strongly about the need for prohibition was that her husband was killed when he was hit by a car near Indira Nagar. The suspicion is that the car was driven by a drunk driver. Another group of voters wondered if it was possible to bring back prohibition in one stroke or implement it in stages. Their stand depended on their political affiliation. While DMK president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi has promised to bring back “total prohibition”, Jayalalithaa has promised to reintroduce prohibition in stages.

“Taking into account the ills of liquor consumption, our first signature after assuming office will be to implement total prohibition,” Karunanidhi told an election meeting at Mayiladuthurai on April 24. “What is that gradual prohibition?” he sarcastically asked about Jayalalithaa’s assurance. “We are for total prohibition,” he emphasised.

On April 9, at an AIADMK rally on Island Grounds in Chennai, which marked the start of her campaign, Jayalalithaa said that although she was for total prohibition “it is not possible to bring about total prohibition with one signature” and that “it can be reintroduced only in stages”. She promised voters that if the AIADMK was given another term, it would first reduce the working hours of the liquor shops, then limit the number of shops, close the bars attached to the liquor shops, and open rehabilitation centres for addicts, all in stages.

Mood in the west

People see a link between sales in the liquor shops and the lack of money circulation. Shah Jehan said: “When a labourer who earns about Rs.350 a day spends much of it on liquor, how much money can he give his wife to buy groceries, vegetables or milk? The entire money goes to TASMAC, where it gets locked up. Still the government says it has a deficit budget.” E. Ayyamperumal, standing at the intersection on the national highway from Coimbatore that led to Sankagiri constituency in Salem district, went ballistic when this reporter struck up a conversation with him. “There is no money circulation at all. Real estate has crashed. If one acre of land costs Rs.1 crore, I am able to sell it only for Rs.25 lakh. I am not able to sell any parcel of land. There are no buyers for flats either. I am an AIADMK man but am upset that there has been no money circulation for the past few years.” He, however, praised Jayalalithaa for setting up Amma canteens and Amma pharmacies and initiating the scheme to sell Amma cement bags. Yet, he predicted that “a change will come about” in the State.

Other issues that have come to the fore are “lack of money circulation”, the crash in real estate prices; the failure of the government to desilt and deweed canals, rivers, lakes and ponds; mechanisation of farming and the consequent unemployment problem; erratic power supply; failure of the AIADMK government to stem the flight of industries from the industrial city of Coimbatore to Karnataka; frequent arrests of Tamil Nadu fishermen by the Sri Lanka Navy, and so on. Often local issues dominate election discourse. They include tanneries discharging effluents into the open ground making farmland and groundwater unfit for use at Kuttiapatty and other villages in Dindigul district, discharge of effluents from dyeing units into the Noyyal river in Erode and Tiruppur districts, and the revival of “jallikattu” (the bull-taming sport) in Madurai and Sivaganga districts.

Thondamuthur constituency

N. Palanisamy, a retired sub-inspector of police, and his friend, R. Rajagopal, a former employee of a private firm, of Thondamuthur on the outskirts of Coimbatore are sure “a change is in the offing”. Attention is focussed on the Thondamuthur constituency because S.P. Velumani, Rural Industries and Law Minister, is seeking re-election from there. Explaining why a change is round the corner, Palanisamy, seated comfortably in the village square, said: “Real estate is down. There is less money circulation. Registration charges for buying properties is high. Agriculture has taken a beating because the rains failed last year [2015]. Agricultural land has become housing sites. But there is no buyer for them because people do not have ‘paisa’. In Sembanur, Thazhiyur, Madhampatti, Narasipuram and Kuppepalayam, elephant-human conflict is on the rise. So people do not want to buy land there although these are scenic places.”

However, there is praise for Velumani for providing drinking water facilities and good roads. The assessment is that he may not have to fight hard to retain his constituency because Syed Mohammed of the MMK, who is contesting against him, is not considered a tough opponent. Yet, in the analysis of S. Thamaraiselvan, the DMK representative for the Thondamuthur panchyat union, it will not be a cakewalk for Velumani because there are about 43,000 Muslim voters in the constituency. “If most of them vote for Mohammed, it will become a tough contest.”

There were other imponderables too, such as the three parties that claim to represent the interests of Gounders, who form a sizable chunk of the population in the “Kongu mandalam”, consisting of Coimbatore, Erode, Tiruppur, Salem, Namakkal and Karur, in the western region of the State. The parties are the Kongunadu Makkal Desiya Katchi (KMDK) led by E.R. Eswaran, the Kongu Nadu Jananayaga Katchi (KJK) headed by G.K. Nagaraj, and the Kongu Nadu Munnetra Kazhagam (KNMK) led by “Best” Ramasamy. Velumani is a Gounder, but a split of the Gounder votes can affect his chances, Thamaraiselvan said.

Power situation

In Coimbatore city, which is a premier industrial and textile centre, voters are in an irritable mood. This, despite the claim of the AIADMK government that Tamil Nadu had now become an “electricity surplus State” after the debilitating power cuts during the DMK rule (2006 to 2011) and the first four years of the AIADMK regime. The 10-hour daily load-shedding during AIADMK rule had led to an exodus of industries to Karnataka and Maharashtra, which left the State government looking red-faced. At Sundampalayam in Coimbatore West constituency, workers were furious that hundreds of small and micro-industrial units had closed down in the district. One in a group of men assembled at Sundampalayam said: “Coimbatore’s industry has been hit hard. Job orders for mixies, grinders and motor pumps have come down. There are no orders for units that make forgings and castings. The ‘industrial line’ is completely choked. There have been power-cuts several times a day in the past two years and a half. So unable to ‘balance’ the power cut with loss of production, many industries have relocated to other States. But Jayalalithaa claims that Tamil Nadu has surplus power now.” At Kuttiapatty in Athur constituency, Abdul Salam, a rice merchant, said: “If there is no power cut in Tamil Nadu now, it is because industries have fled to Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Electricity consumption has, therefore, come down.” Abdul Salam argued that Karunanidhi’s assurance that he would re-introduce prohibition in one stroke had more credibility because it was the DMK president who first promised to shut down liquor shops.

The power situation is a livewire issue in the campaign, with Karunanidhi and E.V.K.S. Elangovan, president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, on the one side, and Jayalalithaa on the other exchanging a fusillade of allegations. Addressing an election rally in Coimbatore on May 1, Jayalalithaa said that, as promised in her party’s election manifesto in 2011, the State was now “glowing” with electricity and that “there is no power cut at all”. She claimed: “Quality power without any interruption is being provided to farmers, weavers, small industries, big industries and trade centres.” After the AIADMK was voted to power in 2011, action was taken to speedily complete several electricity generation projects and buy power from other States, she said. In the past five years, Tamil Nadu’s capacity had gone up by an addition of 7,485.5 megawatts. This was from the power projects completed in the State, from Tamil Nadu’s share of the federal power stations and from agreements reached for buying power on a medium- and long-term basis, she said. She called this addition to power availability “a historical achievement” and claimed that there had been “no power cut at all from June 2015”. The loot of granite during the previous DMK regime was stopped during AIADMK rule, she said.

Karunanidhi has been constantly criticising the AIADMK government’s claims on the power situation. In a letter addressed to DMK cadres on April 9, he asserted that “after the AIADMK came to power, no plans were made for any new power generation project, no tenders floated and not even a single MW has been generated”.

If the State government’s debt burden was Rs.1,03,999 crore in 2011-12, it shot up to Rs.2,11,482 crore in 2015-16, he said. Statistics revealed that of the 21 major States, Tamil Nadu ranked 20th in overall development, 17th in infrastructural facilities and 13th in the educational sector. Nearly 10,000 murders and about one lakh robberies and thefts had taken place during this time period. The National Crime Records Bureau revealed that 2,123 farmers had committed suicide in the State.

Elangovan ridiculed Jayalalithaa’s claims on her government’s achievements in the power sector. He pointed out that Jayalalithaa, in her party’s manifesto in 2011, had promised that [an extra] “5,000 MW will be generated by 2013” and that all villages and towns would receive three-phase power supply by 2015. “However, there has been an unannounced power cut at present by the AIADMK government” and people were suffering because of summer, he said on May 1. If the State’s requirement was 15,400 MW, it was receiving only 13,000 MW. Farmers, weavers and industrialists were suffering due to shortage of electricity.

Elangovan said: “Since no investment was made in the last five years in power generation, not even one MW was generated. Generation of power is made only from the electricity projects inaugurated during the previous DMK regime and the Jayalalithaa government made no effort to start new power projects.” Although the Centre in 2012 had permitted the setting up of a 4,000 MW power project at Cheyyur in Kancheepuram, work had not begun on it. There was no progress in the Udangudi power project either, he said.

Vaiko’s withdrawal

Kovilpatti constituency was in the news on April 16 when Vaiko announced that he would contest from there. The news generated interest because he is the star campaigner for the PWF.

On April 4, Jayalalithaa named K. Ramanujam Ganesh, a lightweight, as the AIADMK candidate for Kovilpatti. However, when the news was out that Vaiko was planning to contest from Kovilpatti, she brought back Kadambur Raju, who could pose a challenge to Vaiko. All the three, Vaiko, Ramanujam Ganesh and Kadambur Raju belong to the Naidu community.

Vaiko dropped a bombshell on April 25 when he announced that he was opting out of the contest at Kovilpatti, alleging that the DMK was planning inter-caste tension in the constituency and blaming him for it. Vaiko turned a bitter foe of the DMK after his expulsion from the party and he went on to form the MDMK in 1994. He said he took the decision not to contest because a group of people in Vadakku Thittangulam village in the constituency prevented him from garlanding the statue of Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar. The group did not want Vaiko to garland the statue because Vaiko reportedly spoke ill of the Thevar community at Udumalpet in Tiruppur district after a Dalit youth, V. Sankar, was murdered there on March 13, for marrying a caste-Hindu girl.

However, Vaiko went on to garland the Thevar statue at Vadakku Thittangulam. Vaiko’s decision to withdraw from the contest drew jibes from the DMK, the AIADMK and the BJP. They said he was running away from the battle because he knew he would lose. An AIADMK leader said: “Vaiko developed cold feet after Jayalalithaa fielded Kadambur Raju against him. Vaiko was afraid that he would be pushed to the third place.”

Among the other prominent constituencies, Madurai West, Athur, Ulundurpet, Tiruchi (West), Aravakurichi, Pennagaram and Kolathur are expected to witness “big fights”.

Madurai West

It will be interesting to watch the outcome in Madurai West where three important candidates are battling it out. They are the AIADMK’s Minister for Cooperation Sellur K. Raju, G. Thalapathi of the DMK, and U. Vasuki of the CPI(M). Sellur Raju, the incumbent MLA, is making every effort to retain the seat. Thalapathi was with the M.K. Azhagiri faction in the DMK but switched loyalties to the M.K. Stalin faction and has been rewarded with the party ticket. (Azhagiri and Stalin are Karunadhi’s sons. Azhagiri was “dismissed” from the DMK for anti-party activities in March 2014.)

Unfazed by the resources at the command of Sellur Raju and Thalapathi, Vasuki, the daughter of late CPI(M) veterans R. Umanath and Pappa Umanath, is waging a spirited fight and knows the issues she has to tackle. She told Frontline that the three important issues that the CPI(M) would tackle were the livelihood issues of the working-class people, a corruption-free government, and a liquor-free State. “This is the broad focus” of the PWF in the State.

More specifically for Madurai West, Vasuki said she would concentrate on three issues: implementation of the Cauvery Comprehensive Water Scheme to provide drinking water, deweeding and desilting of canals, lakes and ponds in the constituency to increase their water-holding capacity, and supplying drinking water through bowsers as a temporary solution. “If we can do all the three, we can combat the shortage of water,” Vasuki said. To ease traffic congestion, she would try to build the flyovers that Sellur Raju had “promised” for Madurai West but “did not implement”, she said. The parks in TVS Nagar and Pykara would be made usable and maintained properly. She proposes to work towards setting up an All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Madurai, a government arts college in Madurai West, a playground at Sammattipuram, a cricket stadium, and a burial ground for Muslims at Jeeva Nagar. She said she will help residents living for the past 40 years on the land belonging to the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board to receive pattas.

Athur

It is all sound, fury and dust at Athur constituency in Dindigul, where heavyweights are trading punches, hooks and jabs. The major contenders are I. Periasamy of the DMK and Natham R. Viswanathan of the AIADMK. They are local satraps, wielding power in the areas under their control. I. Periasamy is so popular in the constituency that he is “I.P.” to everybody. He is a die-hard supporter of Karunanidhi and was a Minister in the Karunanidhi government from 2006 to 2011. He enjoys the confidence of Karunanidhi so much that his son I.P. Senthil Kumar has been made the DMK candidate in the neighbouring Palani constituency.

Periasamy is immensely popular in Athur and every villager this reporter met appreciated his performance. But they are angry with tannery owners who release effluents into the open ground. Stinging, bad odour hits one’s nostrils in several places in the constituency. The effluents have ruined the soil, spoiled the groundwater and wilted thousands of coconut trees in the groves of Kuttiapatty and other villages.

As we entered Kuttiapatty, we ran into M. Nagaraj. “Even cattle refuse to drink the groundwater here because it has been spoilt by the tannery effluents. New shovels become brittle in a few months. If you build a house, the bricks become powdery because of the breeze laden with toxic chemicals in the effluents and the houses collapse after some years,” Nagaraj said. His wife, Jeyarani, interrupted: “Farmers used to grow paddy and tomatoes here but they can no longer do so because of the tannery effluents. The yield from the coconut trees has come down and the nuts are small in size.”

Soon a knot of people gathered. K.S.V. Ganesan, one of them, said, “The groundwater here has been reduced to chemicals. We cannot even wash our face with it.” V. Vellaichamy, a farmer, chipped in: “If you do, your eyes will burn. The water in four big ponds and a lake in Kuttiapatty has become unfit for use, and paddy, cotton, tomatoes and maize are no longer cultivated in the area.” But they refused to blame I.P. “He works for the people but he is unable to solve this problem of tannery effluents. He has, however, provided piped drinking water to the villages,” one of them said. In village after village, people praised I.P. for being accessible and for bringing several developmental projects to Athur. His popularity was visible in the big village of Athur, which boasts a two-storeyed taluk office and a newly built subtreasury office.

Tiruvarur

In Tiruvarur constituency, from where the 93-year-old DMK patriarch is seeking re-election, “the son of the soil” sentiment has seized the electorate. Karunanidhi belongs to Tirukkuvalai village in Tiruvarur district. He did his schooling in Tiruvarur town. His main opponents are P.S. Masilamani of the CPI and A.N.R. Paneerselvam of the AIADMK. Hundreds of huts and houses across the constituency are painted with the DMK election symbol of the “rising sun”. The walls adorned with propaganda slogans remind voters that the DMK has promised the voters that students’ education loans would be repaid, the loans of small and marginal farmers waived off, the price of Aavin milk slashed by Rs.7 a litre, and consumers could pay electricity bills every month, which would mean lower bills.

P. Rathinam, an itinerant (on his cycle) vendor of potato chips, fryums and groundnut cakes, and G. Selvaraj and G. Paneerselvam of Erukkattur, predict that Karunanidhi will win easily, but with a reduced margin. Their views were similar: “Since it is a six-cornered contest, the votes would get split. So, he will win with a reduced margin this time. It will be less than the margin of 50,000 votes by which he defeated the AIADMK candidate in 2011.” Rathinam regretted that Karunanidhi could not do much for his constituency in the past five years because the AIADMK was voted to power. “If the DMK returns to power, our constituency will see a lot of development,” he said.

At Ulundurpet, the DMK’s G.R. Vasanthavel will take on Vijayakanth. At Aravakurichi, the industrialist K.C. Palanisamy of the DMK has a tough opponent in V. Senthil Balaji , who was the Transport Minister in the Jayalalithaa Cabinet. Although she dropped him from the Cabinet in July 2015 and removed him as Karur district AIADMK secretary, she has now reinstated him at Aravakurichi. K. Chandrasekaran, an AIADMK cadre from Karur, who was in Tiruchi on April 23 to listen to Jayalalithaa’s election speech, said, “Senthil Balaji has been fielded against Palanisamy because the latter has money. Only Senthil Balaji can defeat Palanisamy.”

Nanguneri

Businessman H. Vasanthakumar of the Congress is contesting again at Nanguneri in Tirunelveli district. His main opponent is the AIADMK’s M. Vijayakumar. In 2006, Vasanthakumar was elected from the constituency but he lost to A. Narayanan of the All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi by 12,280 votes in 2011. “The entire constituency knows that Vasanthakumar will not take any bribes,” asserted A.S.A. Karunakaran, his campaign manager. A factor favouring Vasanthakumar is that Narayanan, who contested on the AIADMK’s symbol of “two leaves”, is not in the fray this time. (Vasanthakumar, Narayanan and Vijayakumar belong to the Nadar community. There is a substantial population of Thevars in the constituency.) “Thevars have a predilection to vote for the AIADMK. Since the All India Forward Bloc [which is backed by Thevars] has fielded a candidate this time, fewer Thevars will vote for the AIADMK, and the chances of Vasanthakumar winning are good,” said Karunakaran.

Vasanthakumar said, if elected he would revive the Rs.24-crore project announced by Stalin when the DMK was in power from 2006 to 2011 for laying irrigation channels from the Nambiaru in 46 places. The Rs.356-crore Thamirabarani-Karumeniaru-Pachaiaru project announced by the previous DMK government to provide drinking water to the Nanguneri, Radhapuram, Tuticorin and Theri areas would be completed, he said. Vasanthakumar said efforts would be made to establish a Government Arts College in Nanguneri. He said mobile health camps would be set up for senior citizens.

Lalgudi and Bhavani Sagar

Interesting to watch will be the contests at Lalgudi in Tiruchi district and Bhavani Sagar (reserved) in Erode district. The CPI(M) has fielded A. Jeyaseelan in the former and the CPI has renominated P.L. Sundaram, the incumbent MLA, in the latter. The 49-year-old Jeyaseelan lives in a house measuring 210 square feet with his mother, wife and two daughters at Pallividai village. He opened a bank account for the first time in April this year. His father was a farm worker and his 76-year-old mother enrols for work under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Jeyaseelan’s main opponents are the AIADMK’s M. Vijayamurthy and the DMK’s A. Soundarapandian.

At Bhavani Sagar, Sundaram’s popularity is pretty high. R. Ravi of Kanchanaickanur and his friends Prabhu and Ganesan admire Sundaram for the good work he has done in the constituency. “Sundaram has done everything for the constituency,” Ravi said. But they are unhappy that he has allied with neither the AIADMK nor the DMK. “People want to vote for Sundaram but he has no backing from either the AIADMK or the DMK. Yet, we cannot predict the outcome,” Ravi said.

Pennagaram

Yet another constituency on which all attention will be directed is Pennagaram, where the PMK’s Anbumani Ramadoss, former Union Minister and son of PMK founder Dr S. Ramadoss, is contesting. Anbumani Ramadoss was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2014 when he defeated P.S. Mohan of the AIADMK. In order to avenge this defeat, the AIADMK is going all out to ensure the victory of its candidate, M.K. Velumani. The DMK candidate, P.N.P. Inbasekaran, is also expected to make it difficult for Anbumani Ramadoss.

At Kolathur in Chennai, Stalin and the AIADMK’s J.C.D. Prabakaran have locked horns. While Stalin is seeking re-election from Kolathur, Prabakaran has shifted from Villivakkam to Kolathur.

In the Cauvery delta region of Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Tiruchi districts, and in Cuddalore, Villupuram and Kancheepuram districts, farmers are angry that rivers, canals, lakes and ponds have not been desilted or deweeded. In Thinniam village in Lalgudi constituency, M. Puratchidasan, a farmer, complained that irrigation canals had been deliberately filled up and converted into agricultural land. In Sukumbaar village in Thiruvaiyaru constituency, L. Kalyanasundaram is upset that the AIADMK government has not desilted irrigation canals in the past five years. In Tiruchi, Thanjavur and Tiruvarur districts, the tributaries of the Cauvery, irrigation canals, ponds and lakes were choked with weeds, water hyacinths, juliflora, eucalyptus trees and even palm trees. Irrigation canals branching off from the Kallanai dam are incredibly overgrown with “naanal” grass.

It is a complex election. There are 5.82 crore voters: 2,93,33,927 women and 2,88,62,973 men. About 1.05 lakh voters in the age group of 18-19 are first-time voters and there are 1.17 crore voters in the 20-29 age group. What has captured the imagination of college students is the DMK’s promise to repay their education loans. A group of students from Aravindar Polytechnic College in Ambathurai near Madurai said that a DMK government would generate more employment opportunities. Several voters above 55 years were sure that “a change” would occur through the ballot.

Freebies

What is favouring the AIADMK is its free distribution of uniforms, slippers, textbooks, notebooks and geometry boxes to school pupils, cycles to senior secondary students and laptops to college students. What has come in for appreciation is the AIADMK government’s free distribution of goats and cows, provision of four grams of gold for “thali” for women who are getting married, marriage assistance scheme, old-age pension of Rs.1,000 a month, green houses scheme, and free distribution of fans, mixies and grinders. These were promised in the party’s 2011 manifesto.

This time, the party has outdone its previous manifesto. The AIADMK, which was the last to release its manifesto, has promised a free cell phone to every household with ration cards, free supply of 100 units of electricity to every house (this means that 78 lakh households, which consume only up to 100 units, need not pay power tariff); free Internet connections to senior secondary students who receive free laptops; and 50 per cent subsidy to women buying mopeds/scooters to enable them to drive to their workplaces. During the Pongal festival, all ration card holders would be given “gift coupons” to buy handloom products worth Rs.500 from Co-optex. Those having “Arasu Cable TV” (the government-owned cable television network provider) connection would get a set-top box free. It has also promised free wi-fi links at bus termini, shopping malls and parks in the State.

The manifesto has also promised 8 gm of gold to women who are getting married and have studied up to Class X and an increase in financial assistance from Rs.12,000 to Rs.18,000 to pregnant women.

Other promises include writing off of loans and grants or subsidies to every section of society from farmers, weavers, fishermen, salt-pan workers, potters and traders, to minority sections. All loans, including crop and medium- and long-term loans that small and marginal farmers had received from cooperative banks, would be written off. The AIADMK will announce a new policy on granite quarrying and sell beach sand minerals, if voted to power.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor