Thoothukudi flood works blow wind in DMK favour

Unemployment is an issue that weighs heavily on the minds of voters in the constituency that has seen development limited to big towns.
DMK MP Kanimozhi
DMK MP Kanimozhi (Photo | EPS)

THOOTHUKUDI: As the southern district of Thoothukudi came under an unprecedented deluge in December 2023 that left towns and villages submerged for days, it was impossible to miss the images of the constituency’s high profile MP Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, clad in a salwar kameez, wading through stagnant water to reach affected residents.

While some DMK representatives faced flak for not being with the people during flooding in Chennai and Tirunelveli, in Thoothukudi the party’s deputy general secretary led from the front. For this reason, voters and political party workers believe her victory here is certain although many also feel that development is yet to reach all parts of the constituency during her tenure.

The Thoothukudi constituency was formed in 2008 and includes the Assembly segments of Thoothukudi, Tiruchendur, Srivaikuntam, Ottapidaram (reserved), Kovilpatti and Vilathikulam. The DMK won here in 2009 and 2019 (Kanimozhi’s maiden outing) while AIADMK won in 2014. The DMK alliance also holds five of the six Assembly constituencies, barring Kovilpatti which elected Kadumbur Raju of the AIADMK in 2021.

Kanimozhi (54), who defeated the NDA candidate Tamilisai Soundarajan (of BJP) by a whopping 3.47 lakh votes in 2019, is facing the AIADMK’s R Sivasamy Velumani (42), TMC’s SDR Vijayaseelan (51), fielded by the NDA, and NTK’s Dr J Rowena Ruth Jane (33). While Kanimozhi, daughter of the late Chief Minister M Karunanidhi is a writer and politician, Velumani is a traditional physician who runs a bone-setting treatment centre. Vijayaseelan is a businessman and Rowena a dentist.

Caste is a significant factor in this constituency, which has a sizable population of Nadars who are mainly engaged in business and hold sway in the political arena. The constituency also has a good number of Christian and Muslim voters. While Velumani is a Hindu Nadar, Vijayaseelan and Rowena are Christian Nadars. However, Kanimozhi does not discuss her caste identity.

While the constituency has seen considerable economic development, much of it is concentrated in and around Thoothukudi, located on the Coromandel coast, which is extremely well connected by rail, air, road and water (VO Chidambaranar Port). For educated persons, the seafood companies, manufacturing plants, chemical factories and shipping industry provide employment. However, fishing, salt pan works, palmyra tree-climbing remain the traditional occupation of many without access to education and resources. Agriculture too is a key occupation which relies entirely on the vagaries of the northeast monsoon.

Although Kanimozhi claims credit for bringing to Thoothukudi a furniture park, rocket launch pad and an e-vehicle manufacturer, unemployment remains a serious concern among youth here.

“So many private companies like gin factories, cotton mills, the Sterlite copper smelter, beach sand mining units, thermal power plants have shut in the region. This has directly affected employment. The DMK government is trying to bring in more opportunities but it should act on a war-footing,” said Anand Asir of Housing Board. In Ottapidaram segment, for instance, people told TNIE development has still not reached remote villages there.

“There is not a single town panchayat, there is no bus depot, and just a few educational institutions. Both DMK and AIADMK promised to upgrade panchayats into town panchayats and bring in colleges in 2019. But nothing has happened,” said a TV repairman.In the Vilathikulam segment too, the people worried about the lack of industrial development.

Professor Dr Sambath Kumar, who worked in Vilathikulam for several years, said the assembly constituency lags behind.

“We are educating children only for them to work for a meagre income at far-flung places, leaving all the agricultural lands unutilised,” lamented 46-year-old Selvakumari from Sinthalakarai.

While traders in Pudur, surrounded by over 30 villages, said there is a dire need for a nationalised bank branch in the region, farmers in Kayathar, Ottapidaram, Vilathikulam and Kovilpatti raised concerns about the rampant encroachment of water bodies by wind mill operators.

There is also anger against the union government for failing to double farmer’s income as the BJP promised in 2019. Instead, prices of fertiliser and pesticides have gone up as have transport costs due to fuel hikes affecting earnings.

In Eral, which was devastated by the floods, traders said even at the government’s special loan mela bankers would not sanction the amount needed for recapitalisation. “The flood affected people of all walks of life but traders lost both material and capital entirely,” said Kamaraj, a trader.

All complaints notwithstanding voters believed the fight here was between AIADMK and DMK, with the latter having an edge. “The DMK’s strenuous efforts in the aftermath of the flood in Thoothukudi corporation, Srivaikuntam, Eral, Alwarthirunagar and Authoor did help the public quickly recover. However, the state government’s `6000 flood relief was paltry compared to the losses suffered by the families,” said Dinesh David, who works in a private telecom company. Meanwhile, AIADMK cadre said they are trying to rebuild their vote bank that eroded due to their past alliance with the BJP.

For the BJP alliance, aside from charges of practicing Hindutva, its other drawback is the accusation that it turned a blind eye to the people during the floods. “No party can be blamed for the rain. Only timely rescue measures and financial support will help. But the refusal of the BJP’s Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman to release funds even after visiting the flood-hit areas has backfired on them,” said a voter from Eral, indicating that the DMK’s charges have fallen on fertile ground.

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