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Shift of allies weakens Congress prospects in Salem

National,Politics, Mon, 11 May 2009 IANS

Salem (Tamil Nadu), May 11 (IANS) The ruling DMK has staked its reputation in this industrial town of northwest Tamil Nadu by betting on the prospects of K.V. Thangkabalu, president of the Congress' state unit, to retain the prestigious Lok Sabha constituency in the elections here Wednesday.


The crossing over of regional parties like PMK and MDMK to the rival AIADMK camp from the DMK-led Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA) in the state has made the going tough for Thangkabalu in a straight contest.



Though the DMK has let the Congress contest from Salem again as its staunch ally in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the absence of support from its erstwhile allies, especially the PMK, has changed equations in a caste-polarised constituency.



By switching sides, PMK founder-president S. Ramadoss and his cadres have made Thangkabalu slog for victory over AIADMK contestant S. Semmalai.



'The PMK has been working overtime to ensure its Vanniyar supporters shift their votes to AIADMK en bloc for ensuring Semmalai's victory,' a political analyst told IANS here.



The Vanniyar community constitutes about 30 percent of the million-strong electorate, with other backward castes (OBCs), including Thevars, Chettiars and Mudaliars spread evenly.



Redrawing of the constituency and a change in the demographic profile have brought in more voters to make Semmalai bank on the anti-incumbency factor working against Thangkabalu because of steep price rise, power crisis and the economic slowdown severely impacting the working class, small and medium entrepreneurs.



'Though the DMK government provides BPL (below poverty line) families one kilo rice for one rupee, some subsidies to farmers and freebies such as television sets to the poor, majority of the people are put to untold hardship due to steep rise in food prices and other commodities,' bemoaned S.A. Khader, a printer whose business has declined due to the slowdown.



'A kilo of rice costs Rs.30-35 as against Rs.15-20 per kg a couple of years ago. How do we survive in such hard times when income has not gone up as much,' Khadar, 58, lamented.



The presence of the DMDK of Tamil actor Vijaykant is also a cause for worry to the Congress as the three-year-old regional outfit is targeting the same vote banks the DMK has been nursing for years.



Even as the PMK, the MDMK and the Left parties are pulling out all stops to ensure Semmalai's victory, the faction-ridden Congress is solely dependent on the DMK to sustain the campaign.



Spearheading Thangkabalu's campaign is DMK strongman in Salem and state Agriculture Minister Veerapandi Armugam, who represents the Veerapandi assembly segment in the parliamentary constituency.



In the 2006 state elections, the DMK had won in three of the six assembly segments, the PMK in two and AIADMK in one.



'We are doing our best to ensure Thangkabalu retains the seat. As a major alliance partner at the centre and the state, we have a duty to perform. We are not unduly concerned over the differences within the Congress,' Armugam told IANS while on the campaign trail.



Both sides are claiming credit for the expansion of the state-run Salem steel plant, the creation of a separate railway division for Salem and the setting up of a super-speciality hospital in the city.



Armugam hopes the various populist schemes of the state government and the achievements of the UPA would sway the electorate towards the Congress.



'We are aware of the challenge posed by the PMK and the MDMK, which have crossed over to the other side. Having been in power at the centre and the state, the DMK has done a lot to bring about the kind of socio-economic developments that you can see for yourself,' he told IANS.



Challenging the claims of the DMK and the Congress, Semmalai pointed to the failure of the state and central governments to curb food prices, tackle the power crisis and the impact of the slowdown on hundreds of small and medium enterprises.



'The people are fed up with the false claims and empty promises of the ruling combine. The common man is aware how life has become difficult in the last five years. The voters are intelligent. They know who did what and for whom,' Semmalai said.



While Thangkabalu plays down the sufferings of Tamils in the strife-torn Sri Lanka as an election issue, Semmalai said the tragic events in the island nation had annoyed the people in the state, as the DMK and the UPA government failed to protect the interests of the ethnic Tamils.



While PMK chief S. Ramadoss, MDMK president Vaiko Gopalasamy and AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha have campaigned for Semmalai during the last fortnight, Thangkabalu has been left to fend for himself, as no Congress leader of national stature or other DMK leaders visited the constituency to campaign for him.



In the 2004 elections, Thangkabalu defeated A. Rajashekaran of the AIADMK by a margin of around 150,000 votes.


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