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Key Contests: P Chidambaram vs S P Karuppiah

S Kalyana Ramanathan in Sivaganga | May 07, 2004 16:19 IST

Heavy showers earlier this week brought some cheer to Sivaganga's residents. Farmers in this parliamentary constituency, a bastion of the Congress for over three decades, have suffered significant losses as a result of severe drought in the last two years. To make things worse, Sivaganga does not have any strong alternative source of employment to fall back on.

Former Union finance minister P Chidambaram, who lost the Lok Sabha election (on a Tamil Maanila Congress ticket) in 1999, is contesting as a Congress candidate this time.

His opponent, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam candidate S P Karuppiah, is not a known face in this constituency.

There is hardly any industrial activity in this region. A graphite unit owned by Tamil Nadu Minerals Ltd (Tamin) and a unit of Sakthi Sugar are the only two industrial units here.

Providing water for irrigation to farmers, and spurring industrial development to create more job opportunities are the main electoral issues here.

The AIADMK wants to develop the graphite unit of Tamin to create more employment opportunities. Considering the fact that even with the present capacity of 200 tonnes a day of ore cleaning, this unit employs only 158 people, the AIADMK's plans seem a bit far-fetched.

The area's mineral resource, according to Tamin officials, can last for the next five decades even if the current exploitation rate is maintained.

Another option is to go for creating valued-added products with the graphite powder. But, the stark reality is that there is a limit to what can be done to industrialise the area. Dwindling employment opportunities in Sivaganga has led to the migration of workers to neighbouring towns and cities.

AIADMK members accuse Chidambaram of having failed on the employment creation front, despite his long stint as a Member of Parliament from here.

Despite all this, Chidambaram's win from this seat seem to be a foregone conclusion, as he is not expected to face significant competition from his AIADMK candidate.

"Karuppiah is definitely a new face in Sivaganga, but we are betting on winning this seat based on the caste equations," a senior AIADMK official said.

The AIADMK candidate is believed to have the backing of three of the prominent caste groupings -- Kalars, Thevars and Servais. Chidambaram, on the other hand, belongs to the Chettiyar community, which represents less than 10 per cent of Sivaganga's 1.1 million voters.

The factor that works in favour of Chidambaram is that he is contesting for the Congress. With the exception of the 1996 and 1998 general election, the Congress has held this constituency for the last three decades.

In 1996 and 1998, the TMC had won. In 1999, Chidambaram lost to Sudarshan Natchiappan of the Congress.

After the merger of the TMC and the Congress, Chidambaram formed his own party the Congress Democratic Front. The merger with the Congress can prove to be the winning formula for Chidambaram.

A lawyer by profession, 59-year old Chidambaram has spent close to three decades in active politics. In 1977, he entered active politics, but was defeated in the Assembly elections by a margin of 250 votes.

In 1980, he was denied a Lok Sabha ticket from Sivaganga. In 1984, he contested from the same constituency and managed to hold his ground up to the 1998 elections.

"He has been the minister for finance, commerce and even home (deputy). This time around he might be eyeing the industry portfolio, should the Congress return to power at the Centre," a source within the Congress said.

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