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|September 1, 1999||
Kumaramangalam faces up to ground realities
The 'blue-eyed boy' of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Union Power Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam is locking horns in a stiff one-to-one fight with veteran Congressman and four-time winner L Adaikalaraj in this temple town, which goes to polls on September 5.
There are 13 candidates, including Tamil Maanila Congress nominee M Rajasekaran in the fray. But the real battle is between the two titans.
"It is going to be a tough fight this time", concedes Kumaramangalam who had managed to scrape through last time, shunting out local strongman Adaikalaraj, by a slender margin of 11,000-odd votes.
The defeat to an 'outsider' came as a rude shock for the veteran, who had won all the four previous elections since 1984 with a margin of more than one lakh votes. Adaikalaraj had contested the polls as a TMC nominee.
Attributing his bad show to a poor turnout of minorities, especially Muslim voters, in the wake of the serial bomb blasts in Coimbatore, Adaikalaraj, who quit the TMC and rejoined the Congress just before the announcement of the elections, is determined to stage a comeback this time.
Tiruchirapalli is the only constituency in Tamil Nadu where both Vajpayee and Congress president Sonia Gandhi have visited in the run-up to the polls.
Adaikalaraj is now undertaking a vigorous door-to-door campaign in every nook and corner of this partly industrial and agriculture based constituency.
The Election Commission's restriction on candidates to limit the poll expenditure to Rs 1.5 million has been given a go-by. This is evident from the banners, festoons, multi-coloured posters and wall paintings put up by both the candidates even in remote villages of the sprawling constituency.
Music programmes, folk dances and cultural shows are some of the means being employed by Adaikalaraj to woo the voters, while Kumaramangalam seems to be banking on the strength of his being a Union minister.
Adaikalaraj may have toiled for nearly two decades to establish his hold on the traditionally congress bastion. But Kumaramangalam, who quit the Congress and joined the BJP shortly before the last elections, has achieved the feat in just 14 months.
While being a Union minister, he not only utilised every opportunity to visit the constituency but also brought all top leaders including Vajpayee when the party had organised its state conference here and to bring it into national limelight, as it were.
The Union minister's role in getting four railway overbridges, a long felt need of the people, is the talk of the town. Internet connectivity to this town and the proposed installation of independent Internet server are some of his other achievements. Kumaramangalam is appealing to the people to give the BJP a full five-year term to make this town the economic capital of the state.
Adaikalaraj regrets that the lack of publicity for the good work he had done for the constituency during his previous four terms is costing him heavily. Administrative sanction for the four railway bridges, which Kumaramangalam is boasting of was secured by him when he was the member of the consultative committee of the railway ministry during 1993-94, he claims.
The two candidates have reposed great faith in their respective front leaders, the All India Anna DMK and the DMK.
However, a pall of gloom had descended on the town following the sudden death of DMK legislator Anbil Poyyamozhi who represented the Tiruchirapalli-II assembly segment. This had dampened the spirit and enthusiasm of the DMK cadres.
The fact that DMK MLAs represent the remaining five assembly segments -- Tiruchirapalli-I, Musiri, Lalgudi, Srirangam and Thiruverumbur -- could be an advantage for Kumaramangalam. In the last elections, he had polled more votes than Adaikalraj only in two segments -- Musiri and Srirangam.
It remains to be seen whether Kumaramangalam will repeat the performance in the two segments as the AIADMK, a strong force in Musiri is now supporting Adaikalaraj and a section of BJP volunteers in Srirangam have broken away from the BJP and announced their support to the latter.
The so called "split" in the BJP, with a section of the workers including a prominent functionary in the Srirangam unit floating a new outfit called "Tamizhaga BJP" has caused some worry to the Union minister.
Adaikalaraj has reasons to be more confident in view of the entry of Communist Party of India and CPI-M, in the AIADMK led front, which could help mobilise the votes of the working class in the industrialised Tiruchirapalli and Thiruverumbur areas.
For both the candidates, the visits of Vajpayee and Gandhi have served as a morale booster. Besides the two, all top leaders including Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, former chief minister J Jayalalitha, MDMK general secretary Vaiko and CPI-M state unit secretary N Sankaraiah have visited the constituency and canvassed support for the two candidates.
If minorities, especially Muslims, turn out in large number to cast their votes, it could tilt the scales in favour of Adaikalaraj.
The constituency, dominated by 'Mutharaiars', to which neither of the two candidates belong, has a total electorate of 12.42 lakh with the addition of about 75,000 new voters and goes to the poll in the first phase of elections on September 5.
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