THOOTHUKUDI: Kovilpatti constituency, which is a semi-arid region and known for its matchbox industries, is packing with triple-action battle this time. The star-studded fight has three champions: Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) general secretary TTV Dhinakaran and incumbent Information and Publicity Minister Kadambur C Raju and DMK led alliance candidate K Sreenivasan of CPM in the fray. In addition to the candidates of the Dravidian majors, actor Kamal Haasan’s MNM had fielded a businessman G Kathiravan and Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK) has fielded Gomathi Mariappan.
Being a labour-intensive region with safety match factories, groundnut candy units and ginning factories, Kovilpatti was once a bastion of Communist Party of India (CPI), which had won seven times since the 1952 Assembly polls. AIADMK had won four times and Congress three times. It shall be noted that DMK has never won in this constituency. It is also for the first time CPI(M) candidate is let into fray in Kovilpatti.
Situated in between Madurai and Tirunelveli, Kovilpatti is a region with robust industrial activity and agriculture. The constituency comprises unions such as Kovilpatti, Kayathar and parts of Vilathikulam, Ottapidaram and Pudur unions. Agriculture is the primary occupation of rural workforce. The semi-dry landscape of the region bestows pulses, millet, cotton during the rabi season. The agrarian season is intensive for only three months in a year. Besides the crops, vegetables, lemon and fruit trees are scattered in the region. Kazhugumalai, famous for early Pandyan architecture of rock cut cave temple, is a tourist stop of Kovilpatti.
Political analysts say that even though TTV Dhinakaran claims to have voters’ patronage beyond caste and religion for his party, his election organiser SV Manickaraja is solely relying on the vote share of the Thevar community in Kayathar, where it helped him to sweep the local body polls. “People of other communities and a section of Thevars are not in tune with Manickaraja’s attitude. He still forces people to call him a Zamin king of Kayathar,” they added.
Sources in Kovilpatti unit of AMMK said that Manickaraja has good rapport with different communities, through his political influence. Kadambur C Raju who has been a legislator representing Kovilpatti since 2011, is credited with the implementation of the second pipeline scheme to the municipality, getting Geographical Indication tag for Kovilpatti groundnut candy, and reducing the GST slab for safety match manufacturers, besides formulating welfare board for safety match workers. He had also taken steps to pass a government order to construct a nursing institution here. However, the AMMK candidate is expected to split the vote share of the AIADMK party.
Whereas, CPI(M) candidate K Sreenivasan, who is known for his protests seeking solution for various issues, says that these projects had not yet served their purpose despite the minister having been in power for the past decade. Water scarcity still is an issue here, he said. “Even though Raju claimed to have completed the second pipeline project for Kovilpatti municipality the residents are yet to get their connections. The ‘Rs 106 crore worth ‘Thamirabarani combined drinking water scheme for 248 villages’ has not delivered the required quantum of potable water,” he charged.
A Kovilpatti-based activist Sankaralingam says that Sreenivasan is also expected to garner the anti-incumbency votes of the governing party, apart from the consistent vote share of DMK, CPI and MDMK parties. The vote bank of alliance parties (MDMK and CPI) would benefit Sreenivasan beyond the caste equations, he added. Meanwhile, the youth of the region say that though the current government representative concentrated on the infrastructure and construction projects, the issue of unemployment was largely ignored.
“A graduate can only find a decent job in Chennai,” said Siddharth, a voter. Being an agriculture area, the governments should focus on bringing agro-based industries to Kovilpatti so that the youth get employment, he added. With the stiff stand-off between AIADMK and AMMK parties, it would not be an easy job for the minister to retain the seat, whereas the DMK combine might have an edge over the other two key contestants with a tad more effort.