The Deputy CM is banking on welfare schemes in his fight against Thanga Tamil Selvan
One of the most keenly watched electoral battles is unfolding at Bodinayakkanur in Theni district.
Deputy Chief Minister and AIADMK coordinator O. Panneerselvam is aiming for a hat trick, having been elected from the constituency in 2011 and 2016. This time, he is facing a tougher rival in Thanga Tamil Selvan, who joined the DMK in 2019.
Their rivalry is at least two decades old, even when both were in the AIADMK. After Jayalalithaa’s death, Mr. Tamil Selvan switched loyalty to the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK); after the 2019 Lok Sabha election, he joined the DMK that lacked leadership in the district. He was first made the State propaganda secretary and then Theni (North) secretary. Though his base is Andipatti, the DMK has fielded him against Mr. Panneerselvam.
The Makkal Neethi Maiam, the Naam Tamilar Katchi and the AMMK have fielded their candidates, but the fight is essentially between the AIADMK and the DMK.
The constituency has all intermediate castes such as Pillai, Chettiar, Nadar, Mukkulathor and Naidu, besides the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. There are also Christians and Muslims.
Mr. Panneerselvam’s team, led by his two sons, has been working on the ground for months, trekking to even remote hamlets populated by tribals. A few months ago, Mr. Panneerselvam himself trekked to the tribal hamlets such as Melparavu and Muduvakudi to hear out the grievances of the tribals. He told The Hindu recently that a majority of the poll promises were kept and some would be fulfilled after the election.
The Deputy Chief Minister is banking on the government’s welfare schemes. Loan waiver and ‘kudimaramathu’ have benefited farmers, and many Adi Dravida students have secured scholarship, he said.
The establishment of the Government Law College and the Veterinary College and the proposal to establish a SIPCOT estate and a food park would transform the constituency in the next two to three years, he said. The farmers’ demands on the P.T.R. Rajan Canal and the 18-canal scheme were met.
The fight has turned volatile with the Opposition lodging a complaint with election officials against Mr. Panneerselvam for the alleged violation of rules. He was accompanied by more supporters than what was prescribed while he filed nomination on Friday, Mr. Tamil Selvan said.
Likewise, the government’s recent decision to rename seven Scheduled Castes as Devendrakula Velalar had created dissent among the Vellalar community here. A group of youths objected to Mr. Pannerselvam unveiling a statue of V.O. Chidambaram Pillai in the constituency. But the police used mild force and chased them away.
However, Mr. Panneerselvam’s campaign managers are confident of improving the victory margin by at least 10,000 more votes this time than in 2016, when it was 15,608.
But the DMK camp is sure of a victory not only in Bodinayakkanur but also in the entire Theni district, traditionally an AIADMK stronghold. DMK workers pin their hopes on the anti-incumbency wave. They say Mr. Panneerselvam has not helped to develop the district, despite his importance in the party and in the Cabinet over the years.
Though he served as Chief Minister and handled key portfolios such as PWD and Finance, he did not bring any benefit to the district. Voters feel that only his family has become wealthier, DMK functionaries say. The AMMK has put up Muthusami, the NTK has fielded Premchandar and the MNM has nominated Ganeshkumar.
The roads are unmotorable in many parts of the district, especially in the tribal hamlets. The Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe colonies have their own grievances. “Even the basic needs like drinking water and street lights are not provided,” said Paramasivam of Kurangani Top Station.
People in urban areas said the management of COVID-19 was effective across the district. They also acknowledged the improvement in the groundwater table owing to the ‘kudimaramathu’ scheme.
An indication of the anti-incumbency wave is the perception that there has been an increase in corruption in government departments, especially in the issuance of patta transfers, birth and death certificates and subsidies.
On the tourism front, the government came out with plans, which were not implemented, locals said.