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T Damodaran vs PS Radika Selvi

By S Kalyana Ramanathan in Tiruchendur
May 10, 2004 16:26 IST
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The last three elections for the Tiruchendur parliamentary constituency saw the arrival of regional parties, but none managed to retain the seat for two consecutive elections.

The 1996 elections saw the end of the Congress era in this constituency, with the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) emerging as the winner. The subsequent two elections in 1998 and 1999 saw the two dominant regional parties, AIADMK and DMK, emerge as winners.

The sitting MP here is A D K Jayaseelan of the DMK. The DMK leadership, however, has tried to play it safe this time by allowing V Radika Selvi to contest from this seat. Radika Selvi is the widow of Venkatesa Pannayar, who was killed in a police encounter in Chennai six months back. The AIADMK has fielded T Damodaran from this seat.

The DMK's move is aimed at garnering sympathy votes by fielding the widow of Venkatesa Pannayar, who belonged to the Nadar community. Close to 55 per cent of the 1 million voters in this constituency are represented by Hindu and Christian Nadars.

Irrespective of their religious inclinations, the Nadars vote in a block, according to workers of both parties. And the DMK is hopeful that this will work in favour of their candidate.

"This time, we are seeking votes to fight the injustice caused to Pannayar's wife and also seeking a secular government at the Centre," says Dr Vetrivel, a senior DMK party member said.

Nadar community leaders, however, are non-committal about the party they will support.

"As a group we will not thrust any idea on an individual. Each member will be left to himself to decide whom they want to support," said the head of the Nadar community in Tiruchendur.

DMK workers allege that AIADMK cadre have been consistently breaching the model code of conduct by using women self-help groups for campaigning.

"Free distribution of sarees is common here. Little has been done by the Election Commission to stop this. The AIADMK has been using money power to win this election. Our capacity to spend is only a fraction of what they can," complains Dr Vetrivel.

The Hindu Munnani and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have pockets of influence in Tiruchendur. These could lead to a minor vote swing in favour of the National Democratic Alliance parties.

"These are only minor forces, and cannot make a huge dent on the prospects of the DMK," said DMK party workers.

The failure of the Nanguneri special economic zone to take off has become a major political issue here, and the AIADMK and the DMK are blaming each other for this.

This Rs 7,000-crore project, conceived in 1999, was expected to create big employment opportunities in the region.

However, the killing of Venkatesa Pannayar has been the dominant issue here. Both his father and grandfather were also killed over a land feud.

In Tiruchendur, the DMK recently lost Jennifer Chandran, the former minister for fisheries, who jointed the AIADMK in the presence of the party chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, when she came here for campaigning.

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S Kalyana Ramanathan in Tiruchendur