The people are loud and boisterous; the streets narrow and congested; and campaigners occupy the corners on small stages, with some spilling on to the roads. The area is abuzz with activity, as yet another round of election, a once-in-five-year engagement with democracy, which is not merely observed as a solemn duty, but celebrated as a carnival, has come calling. Welcome to north Chennai, ‘The real Chennai’.
Located on this belt is one of Tamil Nadu’s oldest Assembly segment, the Harbour constituency. This area catalysed the city’s economic development much before the metropolis started expanding.
This was a seat once represented by the DMK president, M Karunanidhi, who won from here to become chief minister for the third time. The seat remained with DMK from 1977 till the last election. However, it has been vacant for the past couple of months after the resignation of Pala Karuppiah, following his expulsion from the AIADMK. Despite big names figuring on the list, accessibilty to leaders has remained a core issue for the voting masses. “The local officials turn a deaf ear to us. Even the elected representatives, who went on to hold key portfolios, seldom met us,” says A Umapathy, an auto driver.
The present-day area was just a sandy coast before the British decided to start work on it in the late 1800s. They laid a road called First Line Beach, known today as Rajaji Salai, between the landmark Fort St George here and Royapuram, where a series of buildings started dotting the skyline on one side to support the activities of the port on the other. It soon became a bustling port that traded in materials from spices to potassium during the pre-Independence era, and machinery, oil and automotive components in the years since. After the introduction of wet docks at the Chennai port in 1964, the growth was phenomenal.
Over the years, people from other states settled down here. Among the voters, there now are fishermen and those from the community, who have taken up other jobs, members of various trading communities, a significant number of Muslim population and Anglo Indians among others. However, despite all the growth, there are many issues the voters want addressed. Primary is infrastructure, which they feel are restricted to some plush areas. “This is one of the highest revenue corporation zones. However, no major infrastructure development has taken place in the past few years, as the focus has been on South (Adyar, Velachery, Sholinganallur), where the elite reside,” says R Chidambaranathan, a local.
Growing along with the increasing population, often unrestricted by regulatory oversight, more than three-fourth of unapproved residential buildings in the city are located here. Thus, congestion and poor sanitary facilities have been long-standing issues for the locals. The wish for a better infrastructure facility is summed up by a local youth, S Jayaraj, “Despite being located in the heart of the city and close to the sectretariat, we have been facing issues like poor sanitary facilities and congestion for years.”
With a multi-cornered contest this year, unlike the previous elections, the stage is all set for a fierce battle between the ruling AIADMK, the DMK and the DMDK-PWA alliance, which has the Left parties on board. The AIADMK has fielded its north Chennai district secretary and former Park Town MLA K S Sreenivasan this time. The DMK has not yet released its list, but rumours have it that P K Sekar Babu, a former two-time AIADMK MLA from RK Nagar, who crossed over to become a confidante of DMK leader M K Stalin, could get the ticket. Yet another familiar face doing the rounds is that of HM Jinnah, a young lawyer who was once close to Stalin before being sidelined.
Did you know?
■ Chennai Port is the second largest in India
■ It is the third oldest of 12 Indian ports
■ The Madras Chamber of Commerce, the second oldest one after Calcutta, known as ‘Mother of all Chambers’ started here in 1833
■ First to introduce telegraph and postal services in the entire region
■ The Madras Corporation, the oldest municipal municipal body in India under British regime, started functioning at Fort St George in 1867
■ It is the second oldest municipal body in the world
■ The State Bank of India and the Indian Bank
■ Have their roots along the Broadway
‘British Came in After Armenians’
Giving insight into the ancestry of the constituency, P Ranjith, professor of the department of history at Pachaiyappa’s College told Express, “Much before the British started settling here, Armenians and Portuguese had their settlements here. Even today, a few of their descendants live in and around Assirvathapuram and Armenian street. A few buildings are much older than the famous red stone ones constructed by British, from where the Madras High Court and Central Railway Station now operate.”
Natives Gave Way for Port’s Progress
Though it was primarily a fishermen settlement, the recent years have seen the numbers fall. K Bharathi, chief of South Indian Fishermen Welfare Association, says, “The area is now home to less than 0.5 per cent of the city’s fishing community. The natives were forced to sell their lands and move to nearby slums or government slum clearance projects after the harbour started to develop.”