With her ‘homecoming' pitch, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Jayalalithaa appears to have hit the right note in Srirangam, potshots from her detractors notwithstanding.
Excitement is in the air in this island town, bound by the Cauvery and Coleroon rivers, from where Ms. Jayalalithaa seeks to return to power in the State. If the mood among her party workers and enthusiasm among a sizeable segment of urban voters in the constituency are any indication, Ms. Jayalalithaa already appears to be cruising along.
“We are excited about having a Chief Ministerial candidate contesting here. Besides, we feel a sentimental attachment towards her. We hope for major improvements to the infrastructure of Srirangam, a major tourist/pilgrimage destination, if she is elected,” says R. Ganesan, a resident of the town. This is the refrain of a cross-section the urban middle class voters in the constituency.
But, at just 30 years of age and practically no experience at the hustings, N. Anand, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam candidate, is putting up a spirited fight. The DMK has been trying to neutralise Ms. Jayalalithaa's advantage by raising questions over her accessibility to voters. “I am a local and will be at hand to sort out the problems of the people,” says Mr. Anand.
Ms. Jayalalithaa's claim on Srirangam being her ancestral town has also invited jibes from the DMK camp. “Why Srirangam failed to come to her notice before?” ask party campaigners.
Srirangam is perceived to be a safe seat for the AIADMK. Not because of the communal composition of its voters but largely on account of its electoral history, reinforced by the 2009 general elections when the segment tilted the scales decisively in favour of the party in the Tiruchi Lok Sabha constituency. The Srirangam Assembly seat has been won six times by the AIADMK since the party was founded. This time around the party's strength has been bolstered by the DMDK, whose candidate polled about 16,500 votes in the 2006 elections.
Yet, Mr. Anand exudes confidence that he will overcome the odds. “The achievements of the DMK government will see me through,” he asserts.
A major part of the geographical area of the constituency is rural, with just six wards of the Tiruchi Corporation and a few suburbs accounting for the urban segment. It is also a misconception that Brahmins are the dominant vote bank here. Muthreyars and Dalits constitute the biggest chunks in the constituency, which has an electorate of about 2.20 lakh.
Apart from expectations on better infrastructure, residents living on temple land look for a permanent solution to the problem in selling off their properties. The town does not have a proper bus stand and parking space for tourist vehicles.
The large farming community in the constituency is worried about the depleting water table as the Cauvery bed is being exploited for numerous drinking water schemes between Mayanur in Karur district and Tiruchi, says Ayilai Sivasuriyan, district secretary of the CPI-affiliated Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, and resident of Ayilapettai in the constituency. Construction of a check dam across the river to shore up the water table and renovation of the irrigation channels are prominent demands.
Jasmine and banana growers, susceptible to exploitation by middlemen, are looking for industrial units for value addition, says Natarajan, a farmer of Perur. The imposition of penalties on farmers growing horticulture crops using free power, in recent months, has only added to the resentment of the farming community, already hit by erratic three-phase supply.
Apart from the two main rivals, 21 other candidates are in the fray, including those of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and India Jananayaka Katchi. But, AIADMK leaders rule out any chance of a split in votes.
“The victory of Amma is a foregone conclusion. It is just a question of how big will be the margin. We expect Amma to win by a minimum of 50,000 votes and are striving to make it even bigger,” says P. Kumar, Tiruchi MP, one of the campaign coordinators in the constituency.