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Sriperumbudur: Disgruntled voters and a pale election

May 7, 2009 21:03 IST

Disgruntled voters and a pale election

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Shobha Warrier travels to Sriperumbudur to sense the election mood in this Tamil Nadu constituency. Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj.

Usually, elections in Tamil Nadu are like temple festivals. There are lights, fireworks, music, dance and colourful people. For the first time in 15 years, an election in the state seems to be muted.

Muthulakshmy's angry words summarise the popular mood. "Elections come and go. What is so special about it? Have they ever changed our lives? It has been the same, that of an ongoing struggle ever since we were born. I don't care about these elections."

"Women are suffering, but not even Jayalalithaa, a woman, has helped us. Where can we meet her and tell her our troubles? All of them whiz past us in their vehicles. I will vote only after these politicians close down all the toddy shops in the state."

Sriperumbudur, which used to be a reserved constituency with a total electorate of 1,195,047, is now a general constituency after delimitation. It has urban clusters like Ambattur, Maduravayil, Alandur, Pallavaram, Tambaram, which were parts of Chennai city constituencies. The rest of the constituency with more than 100 village panchayats is mostly rural.

The town is located around 40 kilometres from Chennai on the Chennai- Bengaluru highway. From 2000 onwards, the then sleepy, undeveloped small town started attracting industries from all over the world, mainly because of its proximity to Chennai.

Today, it has global giants like Hyundai Motors, Nokia, Saint-Gobain etc. In the Special Economic Zone created recently, well known names like Flexotronics, Jabil, Dell, Samsung have also commenced operations.

Have these industrial giants changed the profile of this small town? The answer is no. You travel a couple of kilometres from the 6-lane highway where all these multinationals are located, and you see a totally different world. Villages without basic amenities like tarred roads, electricity, water, proper schools or a dispensary. Sadly the presence of these companies has not benefitted the locals at all who are generally employed only in menial jobs.


Image: Poll season is a lot colourless in Sriperumbudur this time around

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'It is a tough battle'

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Delimitation of the Chennai South constituency forced Union Shipping and Transport Minister T R Baalu, the sitting Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP in that constituency, to move to Sriperumbudur.

Competing against him is former Union minister of state for railways A K Moorthy of the Pattali Makkal Katchi, the sitting MP from Kancheepuram, having won that seat twice, in 1999 and 2004.

When Kancheepuram was made a reserved seat for scheduled caste candidates, Moorthy moved to Sriperumbudur, which has been now de-reserved. Also in the fray is Arun Subramanian of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, whose leader is the Tamil movie star Vijayakanth, popularly known as 'Captain'.

Near the Rajiv Gandhi memorial in Sriperumbudur -- the former prime minister was assassinated in this town on May 21 18 years ago -- we ask Ravi, who has come to have a tender coconut, about the election.

"I am a PMK supporter," he says, "but you can't predict the outcome. It is a tough battle for both Baalu and Moorthy. Baalu is a wellknown face appearing in newspapers and on television quite regularly. Moorthy is not that known, but this area falls under the Vanniyar belt."

The PMK, led by Dr S Ramadoss and his son former Union health minister Dr A Ramadoss, is considered a custodian of Vanniyar caste interests in Tamil Nadu.


Image: The Rajiv Gandhi memorial in Sriperumbudur

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Advantage: Baalu

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Baalu appears to have a 60:40 chance of victory.

After delimitation, several areas from Chennai South have moved to the Sriperumbudur constituency, giving the DMK nominee an early advantage.

Though the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam -- an ally of the PMK -- is traditionally strong in the Sriperumbudur area, it is not that influential in the city. AIADMK workers don't seem enthusiastic campaigning for PMK candidate Moorthy.


Image: AIADMK workers don't seem enthusiastic campaigning for the PMK candidate

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The Communists are here

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Along with the number of factories coming up on either side of the national highway, trade unions are making their presence in the area.

"This is the first time the Communist parties are making their entry in this area," says Ravi, who used to work at the Saint-Gobain factory. "It is a new development. In another 2, 3 years, you may see red flags flying high here."

In fact, red flags are already flying on the highway median.

As both the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India-Marxist are part of the AIADMK front, their presence may help Moorthy.


Image: The Nokia factory near Sriperumbudur

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'We feel like slapping the politicians'

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Just five kilometres away from the national highway is a village named Kilai. The village does not have a proper road leading to it from the six lane stretch of the Golden Quadrilateral.

There is a bus that passes through a place three kilometres away from the village, just once a day. The service is erratic.

The building of the only middle school that was started seven years ago in the village is unfinished. Teachers, if they come at all to the school, gossip and take their siesta, the villagers say. There is no primary health centre in the village. The list of complaints is unending...

An angry Suguna, who heads a village self-help group, says, "You can see the condition of the school. The school has only up to Class 8. Our children walk five kilometres to school in Sriperumbudur. If a snake bites a child, then we have to run 5 km carrying him. Is this what development is? We do not want colour television sets. We want a school, a road and a dispensary."

Another villager, Rakkamma, sarcastically mimicks the politicians who come to the village with folded hands, without asking what the villagers want or how they live -- only to reappear after five years.

"We are fed up of these people. We feel like slapping them, but we can do that only if their cars stops here. They know they will be abused if they stop to answer our questions. So they don't stop their cars."


Image: Suguna, like most of the villagers, bears the brunt of backwardness

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'Why should we vote?'

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There was a time poor villagers took the apathy of the politicians in their stride and exercised their franchise. With young people who have passed the Class 10 and 12 examinations going out to work in factories, the aspirations of the village are high.

Mohanvalli is 19 and a first time voter, but she is not excited about voting. She walks 3 kilometres to catch the factory bus every morning.

"I get Rs 2,500 as salary. I got the job not because of any political party. I could not study after the 10th as there was no school nearby."

"There is no water in our village. Usually the power-cuts are more than 10 hours. Why should we vote? I have not even decided whether I should vote or not," she says, hurrying to catch the factory bus.


Image: Children of Kilai dream for a better future

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'Lankan issue is for politicians, not for us'

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All the political parties in Tamil Nadu speak passionately about the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils. Surprisingly, the people in Sriperumbudur this correspondent spoke to are not interested in the issue.

Selvaraj, a contractor, says, "It's sad to read about people getting killed in the war, but for us, our daily struggle is more important."

Kanmani, another villager, remarks that it is an issue for the politicians and not for them.

"You have talked to so many people here. Have you heard anyone listing it as a problem? For us, buying our daily food is the biggest problem. Every single thing is getting so expensive. How do you expect us to think of the Sri Lankan Tamils when our next meal is a question mark, when we have such a dilapidated school in our village?"


Image: The dilapidated school building, the only one in the village

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For some, Captain is the only hope

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Shanmugham, who is 28, and others of his age in the village, say 'Captain' is their only hope.

'Captain' is, of course, DMDK chief, movie star Vijayakanth, whose nominee is contesting the election in Sriperumbudur.

"We have tried these two parties (the AIADMK and DMK) for so long," says Shanmugham. "Now let us try Captain. We are not targeting this election. Our aim is the 2011 assembly election. We will be the winner then. Things will be better after that..."


Image: The DMDK may be a crucial factor in Sriperumbudur

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