It's star war in TN's Theni heartland for Lok Sabha polls

Raising Mullaiperiyar water level to 152 feet, creating more jobs among main demands of voters
Vaigai Dam in Theni district
Vaigai Dam in Theni district | Express

THENI : Lying on the lap of the scenic Western Ghats, Theni, replete with its green cover, has always seen stars in the fray. It all started in 1977 when actor-turned politician SS Rajendran contested from Andipatti assembly constituency on AIADMK ticket and embraced success. Following suit are MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa who contested from Bodinayakanur assembly constituency and enjoyed the fruits of success in 1984 and 1989 respectively. Jayalalithaa once again made Andipatti sway her way, in 2006.

Though the constituency is serene with its lush-green forests, waterfalls and meadows, it is not without tension, and the main reason for many a legal fight between Tamil Nadu and Kerala - the Mullaiperiyar dam, constructed by British Engineer Pennycuick in 1895, which provides water to five districts - Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Virudhunagar and Ramanathapuram - is in the district.

The parliamentary constituency was carved out of erstwhile Periyakulam Lok sabha Constituency comprising Periyakulam, Theni, Bodinayakanur, Cumbum, Andipatti and Sedapatti assembly constituencies in 2008.

The constituency that saw 17 Lok Sabha elections so far has seen AIADMK winning eight times, Congress five times, DMK twice and Swatantra Party and Indian Union Muslim League winning one time each. In the last Assembly election, AIADMK won from Usilampatti and Bodinayakanur, and the remaining four assembly segments were bagged by DMK.

Coming to 2024, there are a total of 25 candidates in Lok Sabha poll fray. DMK has fielded Thanga Tamilselvan (63), who has won from Andipatti assembly seat in 2011 and 2016 with a margin of 30,196 votes and 21,031 votes respectively.

Giving a tough fight to Tamilselvan this time is AMMK general secretary TTV Dhinakaran (60), AIADMK veteran VT Narayanasamy (64), who has been a party member for the last 40 years, and NTK candidate Dr J Madhan (45).

Dhinakaran is not a new face in Theni. He had started his political career as an AIADMK candidate by constesting from Periyakulam Lok Sabha constituency in 1999, winning by a margin of 45,806 votes. However in 2004 Lok Sabha election, he lost Theni seat by a margin of 21,155 votes. Though he won in RK Nagar assembly by-election with a huge margin of 40,707 votes in 2016 following J Jayalalithaa’s death, he could not make the mark at 2021 Kovilpatti assembly fight, losing by a margin of 12,403 votes.

Tamilselvan was an MLA from Andipatti thrice (2001, 2001, 2016), and is currently the DMK Theni North secretary. He had also served as a Rajya Sabha MP. Since he was an MLA from Andipatti constituency in 2001-2002 period and had worked as the district secretary of AIADMK, he has a good reputation here. Adding to his popularity is the fact that he is a native of Narayana Thevan patti, located in Uthamapalayam.

After the demise of former Chief Minister J Jayalalaithaa, he switched to AMMK before joining DMK. It is learnt Stalin is doing his best to regain Theni LS seat, the only parliamentary constituency that voted in favour of AIADMK last time. P Ravindranath Kumar, son of O Panneerselvam had won from the constituency in 2019.

Though AIADMK candidate VT Narayanasamy is in the party for 40 years and serving as Theni East union secretary in the party, it is the first time he is contesting parliamentary election. He belongs to the Naidu community which is the second largest population in the constituency. Big-names in AIADMK including its general secretary Edappadi K Palaniswami and RB Udhayakumar had campaigned for him by citing the developments of the constituency during the period of AIADMK.

Periyar Vaigai Irrigation Farmers Association coordinator S Anvar Balasingam said though Supreme Court, in 2014, had ordered to retain the Mullaiperiyar water level at 152 feet from 142 feet, no action has been taken yet.

That’s not all. S Mariammal said due to non-availability of job opportunities, around 20,000 women have to travel to Idukki district to work in cardamom plantations.

A social worker K Kannan said though the incumbent MP O Raveendranath gave so many poll promises including road between T Mettupatti in Bodinayakanur and Sakulathumettu in Kerala, Kuragani and top station, he has done nothing as he was busy solving his own issues.

Main fight between TTV, Tamilselvan?

During his tenure as Periyakulam MP, TTV Dhinakaran used to stay in the region, addressing people’s grievances. Apart from his MP fund, sources said he used to spend from own pockets to fulfil people’s demands. Political pundits believe the main fight is between mentor (TTV Dhinakaran) and protege (Thanga Tamilselvan).

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