BJP has bright chances in 2 TN seats

via Swati Das | Kanyakumari/Ramanathapuram - Daily Pioneer published on May 3, 2009

For a party shunned by the Dravidian outfits in Tamil Nadu as “communal”, the BJP has placed its hope on two constituencies – Kanyakumari and Ramanathapuram. The party candidates here hope to cash in on the “good work” of their MPs in earlier terms.

Ponaiah Radhakrishnan (57), a former Union Minister in the Vajpayee Ministry, is locked in a quadrangular contest in communally sensitive Kanyakumari. People remember him for the initiative he had taken to set up a medical college. The CPI(M) has fielded its sitting MP of erstwhile Nagercoil constituency AV Belarmin from here.

The Kanyakumari Assembly segment is represented by State Tourism Minister N Suresh Rajan of the DMK. Radhakrishnan charges both of being stumbling blocks to development in the district.

Talking to The Pioneer, Radhakrishnan said every project proposed for Kanyakumari was diverted by Belarmin and activities given a communal dimension. “The long pending proposal (from Kamaraj’s time) for a harbour in Collachal was given a miss and four fishing harbours were set up along the coast. Now, the port project has been given to Vizhingam in Kerala. I tried to get a Sports Authority India (SAI) sub-centre in Kanyakumari. But thanks to Belarmin and Rajen, the project was shifted to Palayamkottai (near Tirunelveli). Similarly, the suggestion for coastal games was stalled and now they plan to move this game to nearby hills. The four-lane road from Kanyakumari to Kashmir envisaged during Vajpayee’s Government has been put on hold. I don’t think this sort of thing happens in any other State,” he said.

He is campaigning on these issues, canvassing door-to-door to convince 11.70 lakh voters with 100 per cent literacy. He is promising to make Kanyakumari a “model and growing” constituency. To retain the youth in the country, Radhakrishnan is aiming to ensure jobs for them.

There are other local issues that attracted public apathy for the DMK and CPI(M) – the quality of rice doled out through PDS at Re 1 per kg is so bad that they are sold in Kerala to be blended with the red rice; delay in implementations of tsunami schemes; lack of widow pension; lack of infrastructure and power cuts.

“Free land is given to agriculturalists. We get nothing. At least if the coast is protected, we can fish very close to the shoreline,” said S Meltmin Ammal of Kovalam fishing village, who has applied for widow pension a year ago and yet to get it. M Anthony (66) of the same village cannot go for fishing anymore and he gets no pension either. His only meagre earning is by sorting out fish brought to shore.

“There are so many scholarship programmes for minorities and backward classes, but there is no such scholarship for Hindu students. The poor are not able to afford children’s education. We will have to vote for Radhakrishnan to get our rights back,” said an emotionally charged S Duraiswamy of Agastharam.

In most cases here, the Christian community votes for only Christian candidates. The bishops decide on the candidate. This time, the Hindus have decided to vote en bloc for Radhakrishnan. Many Congressmen, upset at not getting to contest the constituency, likely to support the BJP.

All three of Radhakrishnan’s opponents are Christians – J Helen Davidson (DMK), Belarmin and S Austin (DMDK). The Christian votes are expected to get split among the three opponents, unless the Churches unite, just to defeat the BJP. Apparently, there are differences between the churches this time. But the decision would be taken close to the election.

The majority population in Kanyakumari constituency comprises Christian Nadars (3.43 lakh), Hindu Nadars (3.28) and Fernando fishermen (1.80). The Christian Nadars, Fernandos and the Muslims (0.54 lakh) are unlikely to vote for the BJP. Most Hindu Nadars are likely to go with the Christian Nadars as intermarriages are common between the two. Hope for Radhakrishnan come from the others – SC/ST (0.75 lakh), Pillaimars (0.75 lakh), Nairs (0.40 lakh), Krishnvahai (0.29 lakh) and OCs (0.40) – along with spillage from Hindu Nadars, though he is wooing all sections. In the event of Christian votes splitting, by default Radhakrishnan is likely to wrest the seat from Belarmin.

In Ramanathapuram, it is a close three-cornered contest and the people would choose the person who they think is capable of improving quality of life in the constituency. BJP’s Thirunavukkarasar is considered the best candidate for that.

Being in the lower reaches of the Cauvery and Vaigai basins, Ramanathapuram is the driest corner of Tamil Nadu. Water crisis is the worst problem as sea-water has salinated the ground water. Agriculture is vanishing from the district. For instance, in Nallathurai village of Tiruchuli segment (Virudhunagar district), when this correspondent visited, an old woman came running asking for drinking water. The wells have gone dry and people have dug up pits in the ground to reach water. Women stood inside the pits to scrape out water.

Ramanathapuram is also the worst affected district as far as the power crisis is concerned – an average of four-five hours a day. There are no industries – a ship-braking unit, a magnesium unit and salt production have been closed. Though fishing is a key industry, there is no good cold storage. Employment is another major problem and 75 per cent of 11, 30,489 electorate are below poverty line. Ramanathapuram sitting MP MSK Bhavani Rajenthiran (DMK) has earned a name for “doing nothing for the constituency.” The DMK has fielded one time actor JK Reethish. He is MK Azhagiri’s choice -something that has upset other senior leaders of the area.

Former AIADMK Minister V Sathiyamurthy is a strong contender to capture the anti-DMK votes. But he has not been in circulation lately and has hardly visited the constituency in recent years. In this backdrop, Thirunavukkarasar, with the reputation of being an able worker, is the high-profile candidate. He is campaigning as a MGR loyalist – “Chinna MGR” (Junior MGR) and many AIADMK workers in the field are canvassing for him rather than Sathiyamurthy. But there is a chance that voters confuse him to be from AIADMK and vote for `two leaves’ symbol. Second, the BJP is considered `communal’ and an enemy of the backward class, even though Thirunavukkarasar’s merit lies in his abilities. Yet the main contest this time is between Sathiyamurthy and Thirunavukkarasar.

Reethish, who was initially written off, has money power, votes of fishermen, Christians and Muslims. Some do not want to vote for the AIADMK as they think it to align with the BJP post-election. While Thirunavukkarasar is canvassing from village to village, Reethish is trying to influence different groups and caste leaders in order to secure votes.

The dominant caste is Dalits (19 per cent) followed by Thevars/Mukkalathor (18 per cent). All the three key contestants come from the Thevar community. Muslims comprise 10 per cent; Yadavar, Nadar and Pillaimar comprise 7 per cent each; Christians 6 per cent, while the rest comes from other communities.

“As a good human being, Thirunavukkarasar is the best candidate. He is known to work well for all the constituencies he has represented. In Ramanathapuram, where the DMK has done nothing in the last five years and we have not seen development for over a decade, Thirunavukkarasar has a good chance of getting the support of the people. What goes against the AIADMK is that people have not seen Sathiyamurthy for a long time and Jayalalithaa (AIADMK supremo) is in the habit of changing party leaders often. So there is dissatisfaction even among AIADMK functionaries,” said R Narayanan, a farmer from RS Madai

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