Photo credit: Madhuranthakan Jagadeesan/Wikimedia Commons
The southern districts of Tamil Nadu are witnessing disenchantment with Modi and Madurai is no exception
“We used to make Rs 1000 a day, two years ago but now we are struggling to earn Rs 500 because GST ruined the businesses in our city,” state a group of auto-drivers in unison as they wait for over two hours for a call from the business establishments to transport goods at the North Masi-West Masi streets junction, a business hub in Madurai.
The Goods and Services Tax is the stick that most people in Madurai, cutting across socio-economic lines, use to beat Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The auto drivers of the temple town are just one of the groups blaming their misfortunes on GST.
“After paying a rental of Rs 200 to the owner of the auto and Rs 150 towards paying for the chit (local unorganised small savings scheme), I just get Rs 150 to take home,” rues Subramanian, 25, a graduate from Thathaneri who says he chose this profession due to lack of employment opportunity.
At the junction where the auto rickshaws wait, resentment against the Modi regime is high because their business depended on the sales at hundreds of shops selling hardware, home appliances and electrical and electronic items in the two Masi streets. The auto drivers and mini-truck operators, who transport the goods to the buyers’ place, say that those shops had brisk business till 01 July 2017.
Subramanian and his colleagues also say that many of the educated youth in their localities – Thathaneri, Sellur, Arappalayam, and Arasaradi – were being forced to take up menial jobs for low pay and long working hours. “My friend who has completed his Bachelor of Engineering is working as food delivery boy for a commission of Rs 10 per delivery,” said S Selvaraj, 32, a Tata Ace mini-truck driver from Sellur.
“Modi has cheated the educated youth by giving false promise that he will generate two crore jobs for educated youth,” the driver pointed out.
Educated youth, on their part, have their own grievances. One of them recounted the police action of filing cases against those who took part in a rail roko in support of Jallikattu (bull taming sport) in Madurai. “We all are waiting for April 18 to give our verdict to Modi-cum-AIADMK government,” said this youth from Sellur area.
Women vendors on the streets around the outer periphery of Meenakshi Amman Temple, who sell food items to tourists and local workers, bemoaned a drop in business. “The sales have come down drastically in the last one year,” says Mageshwari, 55, running an evening tiffin centre in a street, blaming the drop in buying capacity of people due to cash crunch caused by GST and demonetisation.
Nowadays, she is forced to spend a minimum of Rs 500 for buying ingredients to prepare food items like idly, dosa, chapatti, and omelette because prices have gone upon after the introduction of GST.
“But I can’t increase the price of my food items because my customers are poor and may not be able to afford it,” she says, adding that she continues to run the business with the hope of a change in national politics after the election.
Loadman Pandi, 40, from Vadakku Masi Street, who completed his dinner at Mageshwari’s stall, expressed his agony stating that he gets work only for 10-15 days in a month since 2018.
“I don’t know how to explain the negative impact of GST citing statistics, but I can say with certainty that I go to sleep without food many nights now,” he says.
Public anger against GST is palpable across Madurai city, the suburbs and adjoining small towns, all of which comprise the Madurai Lok Sabha constituency. “I lost my business after the BJP government imposed 28% GST as against 14% collected previously for cool drinks and 1% for sales,” said M Kumar, 54, of Narasingam, who has taken an agency for a popular brand of soda. After he closed down the business, 10 people working for him became jobless.
The women voters in the constituency also expressed their anger against the government for the sudden rise in cable TV rates in the last month. “Until two months ago, we had paid only Rs 120 per month, now the cable TV operators are demanding Rs 260 per month. Watching movies in theatres is now unaffordable for poor people like us, now TV is also turning unaffordable,” says Ramathai, 60, a daily wage labour from Teppakulam.
The urban voters complain of non-receipt of subsidy amount in banks, price rise of basic commodities and petrol, and National Eligibility-Cum-Entrance Test (NEET), indicating the anti-Modi mood in the Madurai constituency.
How Caste Equations Could Work
This resentment could help the CPM candidate Su Venkateshan, fielded by the DMK-Congress-CPM alliance to take on the AIADMK-BJP alliance and TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK. AIADMK is the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the DMK is the opposition party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and AMMK stands for Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam.
VV Raj Satyan, who is former Mayor Rajan Chellappa’s son and the candidate for the AIADMK, is expected to get the traditional party votes, particularly that of the Kallar community, besides the votes of the Saurashtra community that form close to 8% of the population.
Saurashtrians owe their allegiance to Narendra Modi because he hails from their ancestral place, Gujarat. “Within five years of rule Modiji had brought lot of changes to the country. GST and demonetisation has only strengthened our economy. There might be some difficulties but we need to tolerate those things to enjoy greater happiness,” said Radhakrishnan, 50, from Pandadi area in Madurai city.
The AMMK candidate is former assembly Speaker K Kalimuthu’s son K David Annadurai. He is from the Maravar community and he too is likely to split the vote bank of Mukkulathor community because of the popularity of TTV Dhinakaran, particularly in Melur Assembly segment and few pockets of Madurai city.
Mukkulathor is an OBC (Other Backward Classes) caste comprised of three main sub-castes – Kallar, Maravar and Agamudaiyar. The Mukkulathor are also called Thevar.
It is worth recalling that TTV launched AMMK at Melur last year with the support of his trusted lieutenant and former Melur MLA R Samy, who died in May 2018.
Many people from the Mukkulathor community, who were disappointed with Deputy Chief Minister O Pannerselvam over local water disputes on release of water for irrigation, have taken a vow to “teach him a lesson” in this election.
“As per the PWD schedule, water from Mullaiperiyar dam should be first released to Cumbum valley followed by double crop areas to Kallanthiri and then to single crop areas in Melur and it should be released finally to extension areas in Theni districts through PTR and Thanthai Periyar Channel. However OPS used his political influence to release water first in extension areas to supply water for his lands (400 acres),” claimed Annadurai, 55, a farmer from Etimangalam (Sundarajapuram), a former AIADMK functionary who has shifted loyalties to TTV now. Many farmers in Kottampatti and Melur block complained against OPS over this issue.
The Mutharaiyar community which used to vote for AIADMK has decided to vote for CPM because they see Modi as anti-farmer. “We almost became paupers in the last five years. The BJP government stopped giving employment for the rural poor under the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme which was introduced by former Congress president Sonia Gandhi,” said Thavaputhalvi, 40, a farm labourer from Sarguvalayampatti village.
This apart, a considerable number among Dalits, religious minorities like Muslims and Christians and linguistic minorities such as Yadavs and Chettairs also expressed their resentment against Modi.
“The BJP government is repeatedly attempting to create a divide among Hindus and Muslims by projecting Muslim as outsiders. But what they fail to understand is that in a Dravidian land like Tamil Nadu we have always live under one identity as Tamils, not based on caste and religion,” said K Alapachi, 51, a businessman from Nellpatti.
Though Muslim group SDPI (Social Democratic Party of India) has joined hands with the AMMK, it is not likely to stop Muslims from voting for the DMK-Congress combine. “Maybe 5% of our people might vote for TTV,” said Ibrahim, 47, from Goripalayam.
Many educated people in the city are likely to prefer Su Venkateshan because of his contribution to Tamil language and his fight to continue the Keeladi excavation, said advocate Alagumani.
The contribution made by late CPM leader Mohan, who had won from Madurai Lok Sabha constituency for two consecutive times, for the development of the constituency could also bring an added advantage to Venkateshan.
The Role Of Cash
But the AIADMK strongly believes that they can win voters over by distributing money. We have already started distributing between Rs 300 to Rs 500 to voters in Pudur, Vandiyoor,” said an AIADMK functionary on the request of anonymity. They also believe that AIADMK voters will stay loyal to the two-leaves symbol.
A number of middle aged voters though, disillusioned with the AIADMK’s alliance with the BJP, have decided to vote either for TTV or actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan. Many young voters who were disappointed with both Dravidan parties prefer Seeman’s Naam Tamilar Katchi this time.
In Jaihindpuram area, where 40% of the small and medium scale industries closed down after the introduction of GST, a group of school children accompanied by AIADMK functionaries were seeking votes for party candidate Raj Satyan, whose father Rajan Chellappa is also Madurai North MLA.
When the children spotted this reporter taking pictures, they posed for the camera, holding flags of the AIADMK and its allied parties. One David from Singarapuram revealed that AIADMK functionaries pay Rs 10 to Rs 15 for a child; Rs 200 for a woman and Rs 250 for a man for accompanying them in the door-to-door campaigns and to welcome candidate Raj Satyan.
“AIADMK functionaries asked me and my friends to come along with them when they campaigned for Raj Satyan and paid us Rs 100,” said Pandian, a 15-year-old school student from Kadachanendal village near Madurai.