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Elections 2019: Fisherfolk, Farmer Issues to the Fore in Ramanathapuram

A vote split by AIADMK splinter group, AMMK, may tilt the balance in favour of the DMK-backed IUML candidate, who is pitted against BJP.
Elections 2019: Fisherfolk, Farmer Issues

Chennai: The Ramanathapuram Lok Sabha constituency, which has the longest coastline in Tamil Nadu and where around 200 villages consist of mainly fisherfolk, is set to witness a fight between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been allotted the seat by AIADMK, and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), which is a DMK ally.

The BJP has fielded Nainar Nagendran, former All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader, now its state vice-president, whereas the IUML has made Nawaz Gani, a businessman as its candidate. AIADMK’s A.Anwar Raajhaa is the incumbent member of the constituency.

The constituency has been won by the Congress six times, AIADMK four times, DMK thrice, Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), Forward Bloc and Independent once each.

All four Assembly constituencies in Ramanathapuram district and one Assembly constituency each from the neighbouring Pudukottai and Virudhunagar districts form the Ramanathapuram Loksabha constituency.

Fisherfolk Issue to Dominate Polls

Ramanathapuram district’s coastline is a stone’s throw away from Sri Lanka. Around 200 villages are involved in fishing and hence the issues faced by them form the primary focus in the constituency. The harassment, seizure of fishing equipment and boats, arrests and even firing by the Sri Lankan Navy are the major problems faced by fishermen. Several fishermen have lost their lives in the past years due to the action by the Lankan Navy, reportedly for crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), the imaginary line in the waters between India and Sri Lanka, particularly after 1974. The killing of fishermen has raised outrage across the state, with the fishermen community feeling that the issue is being neglected by the national media.

Unfulfilled Demand for Separate Ministry

The Fisheries Department is under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfar, and there is a growing feeling among fisherfolk that their concerns are not getting the attention they deserve. For long, the community has sought a separate ministry for fisheries, which BJP had promised in 2014, by conducting ‘Kadal Thamarai Maanadu’ (roughly translated as ‘Sea Lotus Conference’).

But, this too, like many others promises, remains unfulfilled as the Narendra Modi-led BJP government ends five years at the Centre. The district is prone to cyclones and damages, as a result of which fisherfolk and farmers have suffered extensive damages, such as during ‘Cyclone Gaja’ that struck the coast adjoining Palk Strait, which separates the Indian subcontinent and the Gulf of Mannar in Sri Lanka.

Agrarian Crisis and Negligence of Farmers

A vast majority of the population of Ramanathapuram depends on farming. Hence, the agrarian crisis is also a key issue in the upcoming elections. Around 70% of the farmers are involved in paddy cultivation, for which the minimum support price (MSP) has not been fixed, as demanded by the. This has increased the financial burden on the farmers, who are already grappling with higher input costs of necessary goods and fertilisers. Unseasonal rains and droughts, too, have dealt a severe blow to them. The neglect of agriculture by both the Union and state governments is, therefore, a sore point with the farming community.

Industrial Backwardness & Unemployment

The absence of industries has forced the youth to migrate in search of jobs. The district has vast scope for industries related to fish processing, coir, oil extraction and food processing industries as well as tourism. However, the administration has turned a blind eye towards the demands of youth. Small and medium industries provide little opportunity to educated youth, with most of them being either under-employed or under-paid.

After demonetisation in November 2016, many industries were closed down in the district, which continues to be economically backward in spite of several opportunities. Even the Tamilnadu Salt Corporation’s (TNSC) decision to hand over operation and maintenance of plants to Tata Trust in 2018, is seen as part of the privatisation of the central and state public sector undertakings (PSUs) by the respective governments. This is being seen by many as making was for eliminating permanent employment and opening the doors for contractual system.

AMMK Candidate May Ruin BJP’s Chances

As campaign heats up for the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP candidate already has a case filed against him for giving an inflammatory speech in a public meeting in Tirunelveli and condemning poet Vairamuthu for his reported derogatory remarks on a Hindu deity, Andal. He allegedly called upon BJP and RSS cadres to kill those who speak against Hindu religion.

The BJP’s choice of candidate has apparently not gone down well among the minority community.

The BJP’s chances face another setback as the TTV Dhinakaran-led Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), a splinter group of AIADMK, has fielded a candidate belonging to the same community -- the influential Mukkulathor community – which he belongs to. Therefore, vote split among the community is set to boost the prospects of the DMK alliance in the constituency.

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