Widespread discontent among farmers, heightened by the havoc wrought by Cyclone Gaja, a strong challenge mounted by the AMMK in its home turf, and some amount of anti-incumbency, could combine to make the going tough for the AIADMK-BJP alliance in Tamil Nadu’s central region, which has about one crore voters.
It is highly unlikely that the ruling AIADMK would be able do an encore of 2014, when it swept all seven seats in the region. The result had jolted the DMK and marked a total reversal of the party’s 2004 performance, when it had bagged all seats in the region. In 2009, the DMK won three seats, while its ally, the VCK, bagged the Chidambaram seat.
The DMK is now looking to regain some lost ground in the company of the Left parties, which have had considerable following among farm laborers across the Cauvery delta. This, along with the traditional vote share of the Congress, and those of the MDMK and the VCK in certain pockets, could help the DMK achieve a turnaround, according to a section of the DMK-led Secular Progressive Alliance’s cadre.
The alliance aims to tap into resentment among a cross section of the people, particularly over the Centre’s hydrocarbon exploration plans in the fertile delta and the State’s tardy relief measures in the wake of Cyclone Gaja. The twin issues have even pushed the Cauvery dispute and Karnataka’s move to build a dam across the river at Mekedatu, to the background.
The AIADMK is looking to cash in on the party’s track record on the Cauvery issue, especially the long legal battle that former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa spearheaded to get the final award of the Cauvery Disputes Tribunal gazette and then the Supreme Court verdict leading to the formation of the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA). It has also been looking to exploit the Congress’s “ambivalent stand” on the CWMA and the construction of a dam at Mekedatu. Chief Minister Edappadi K.Palaniswami is also trying to catch the imagination of farmers by pushing for the Cauvery-Godavari link.
Call to farmers
Yet P.R. Pandian, president, Coordination Committee of All Farmers’ Associations of Tamil Nadu, has openly called upon farmers to unite against the Union government, for going ahead with its hydrocarbon exploration plans and awarding contracts to ONGC and Vedanta for a few blocks in the delta, and the AIADMK for playing along. The delta will be destroyed by these projects and so will the region’s marine resources, Mr. Pandian asserted. “The only solution will be to vote for candidates of parties which are strong enough to revoke the contracts. Otherwise, farmers will face ruin,” he argued.
Though the State government had succeeded in saving many lives by putting in place elaborate preventive measures along the coast prior to cyclone Gaja making landfall, it was found wanting in relief and rehabilitation measures.
“Anger is palpable among the affected people,” said C. Kumaragurubaran, a trader in Vedaranyam in Nagapattinam district. “But for the initial relief given for damage of houses, most people have not got adequate compensation for losses such as trees and boats. There was already a sense of alienation among the people due to fears over hydrocarbon exploration and, after the cyclone, it has only been heightened,” he added.
The AMMK candidates, with the potential to play spoilsport, are giving others a run for their money in the region. Some pre-poll surveys even projected Sarubala R.Tondaiman to be the main rival for the Congress’s Su.Thirunavukkarasar in Tiruchi, eclipsing the DMDK’s V. Elangovan.
“The AMMK has unleashed an aggressive campaign in the region as its leaders V.K. Sasikala, aide of Ms. Jayalalithaa, and T.T.V. Dhinakaran, hail from Mannargudi in the region,” said Mr. Kumaragurubaran. “Though they may not win, they will cause a split in votes and the AIADMK will be the sufferer.”