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Chidambaram faces a thirsty Sivaganga

BS Political Bureau | May 05, 2004 17:43 IST

Former Union finance minister and a staunch advocate of globalisation P Chidambaram is trying to resolve the problems of a village called Padamathur, without compromising his own beliefs.

Villagers of Padmathur say that though there is acute water scarcity in Sivaganga, a Coca-Cola unit has been drawing water from the same water source as a sugar mill, leading to apprehension over the mill's survival. The closure of the mill will lead to the loss of a number of jobs.

In return for their support to either S P Karuppiah of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Bharatiya Janata Party combine or Congress, voters here are seeking a written assurance from the candidates for their support in closing the Coke unit.

Chidambaram's economic and political orientation baulks at giving any such assurance.

Sivaganga may be part of the notional land of Chettinad in Tamil Nadu that fostered the progressive mercantilist spirit of South India, but unemployment and water scarcity continue to be the major concerns of the people in the constituency.

As the five-time winner from this Lok Sabha seat, Chidambaram was instrumental in starting a graphite purification unit, sugar mills and another industrial unit here. But the problem of unemployment remains. Migration to other parts of the state is widespread.

An upbeat Chidambaram, who heads the Congress Democratic Forum, claims that the Jayalalithaa government's handling of the strike by government employees, cancellation of free power to farmers and withdrawal of some welfare schemes will help him win.

During his campaign he has been assuring people that he will resolve the water shortage problem if elected.

The AIADMK candidate, who belongs to the dominant Mukulathoor community, has Jayalalitha as his USP.  He dismisses reports of infighting in the party as rumours.

Karuppiah says his victory would see the region getting more water. The expansion of the graphite unit and the Tiruchi-Rameshawaram and Karaikudi-Mayiladuthurai broad gauge conversion are priorities on his list.

Over 40 per cent of the residents of Ilayangudi and Kalayarkovil have migrated to various parts of the state seeking employment. The "food for work" scheme has also not helped the people, as farmers prefer machines to manual labour.

Despite having as many as 4,500 tanks, water is a serious worry. The AIADMK is being asked to explain why desilting works were not taken up.

"It is true Chidambaram had not made any significant contribution to the constituency during his five tenures. But people do believe in his capability and image and listen with rapt attention his convincing and brief address criticising the Jayalalithsa government for the under-development of the state," a CPI-M leader says.

According to a political science professor Krishnan, the BJP is not a major force to reckon with in the constituency where the Congress has a strong footing.

However, BJP leader H Raja says his party is a strong force in Sivaganga. He says Chidambaram's achievement as an MP 'is near zero'. "The Congress MP Sudarsan Natchiappan did not turn up after getting elected even to formally thank the voters. Is this the party you want to vote for?" he asks the voters.

Karuppiah says he has the time advantage. "We started work very early..Now we are in a strong position. The visit of Jayalalithaa has ensured that the entire AIADMK-BJP men worked unitedly with the sole aim of defeating the Congress candidate."

Defeating Chidambaram is a kind of a mission with Jayalalithaa who sees Chidambaram's presence in the state as a big political -- and legal -- threat to her.

The cancellation of free power for the farmers who depend on ground water for irrigation, closure of the khadi and village industries unit in Sakkottai, withdrawal of welfare schemes like money for the funeral of poor dalits, and the free wedding scheme could go against the ruling party, said CPI-M leader Arjunan.

Chidambaram contested on the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) ticket in 1999 when Congress candidate Sudarsan Natchiappan was elected from the seat.

Chidambaram won in 1984, 1989,1991, 1996 and 1998. Dalits constitute 23 per cent, Yadavas, 21per cent and Chettiars, 9 per cent of the voters.

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