Mannargudi, Tamil Nadu: Arch-rivals DMK and AIADMK are locking horns in this Cauvery delta constituency to establish supremacy in the 16 May Assembly polls, with sitting DMK MLA T R B Rajaa, son of former Minister T R Baalu, seeks to retain the seat.
The contest is virtually confined to Rajaa and AIADMK's S Kamaraj, who has a 30-year association with the party, and is fondly addressed as 'SK' among colleagues and locals.
Rajaa, though credited with renovating the Mannargudi railway station and addressing infrastructure issues, faces criticism for 'inaccessibility', and, more importantly, for the distilleries said to be run by his family, and the contentious Coal Bed Methane (CBM) project, initiated by DMK that resulted in a severe backlash against the M Karunanidhi-led party last time.
The CBM, approved by DMK when it was in power between 2006-11, is believed to have been one of the factors responsible for its defeat, with the AIADMK making it one of the key poll issues even in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Incidentally, Baalu had lost to the AIADMK then.
In the backdrop of demand for prohibition, the issue of the two distilleries run by Baalu's family is also being billed as a possible speed breaker for Rajaa in his bid to secure a successive term.
A farmer who did not want to be quoted, alleged that the beer factory at Vadaseri was affecting local farmlands, an issue raised by the local AIADMK unit also. "There is a danger of these lands being turned into real estate," a senior local AIADMK leader, and poll manager of Kamaraj, told PTI.
He recalled the alleged police action against people at a public hearing of the Orathanadu distillery in Thanjavur in 2010 for the Vadaseri unit, and claimed that certain sections of locals were still observing it as a black day.
However, Rajaa described the criticism as "absolutely no issue," and points out DMK's promise of implementing total prohibition if the party is elected to power in this hard-fought elections.
"It is absolutely no issue. It doesn't matter who runs the distilleries but every one of them, including Midas (allegedly run by a close aide of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa), will be shut down in Tamil Nadu if DMK wins," he told PTI.
The DMK MLA is harping on performance even as AIADMK accuses him of being inaccessible. Local AIADMK leaders said that Rajaa is not often seen in public, a charge which the DMK leader dismissed as "lies".
Rajaa claimed that he is the only MLA in the state to have a dedicated telephone line to be contacted at anytime and that he responds to issues. "The AIADMK has got nothing to sell than lies," he alleged. He is harping on his five-year performance, including renovating the local railway station when DMK was a UPA constituent.
Many times the funds were "rejected" or "unutilised" by the local administration, he claimed. "I got sanctioned a sports complex from (then UPA Sports Minister) Ajay Maken. Further, I ensured the renovation of existing bridges and other infrastructure network," he said.
His promises for this election include modernisation of the Mannargudi bus stand, a new bus stand at nearby Needamangalam and de-silting of Vaduvur Lake, which caters to about 10,000 acres of land.
AIADMK, on its part, is confident that the party-led government's schemes will fetch it a sound win against DMK.
"In this constituency, Amma's (Jayalalithaa) schemes have a 100 percent reach and we are confident that this will fetch us a massive victory," N Swaminathan, one of the poll managers of party candidate Kamaraj, said.
Modernisation of the bus stand and underground drainage are Kamaraj's main promises to the electorate, which numbers around 2.41 lakh. "I will be faithful to the people," he told PTI. The ruling party is also targeting Rajaa on the CBM issue.
Local leaders recall that when Rajaa's father Baalu lost the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, it was the largest margin in this Assembly segment, which came under Thanjavur Parliamentary constituency.
They said Baalu had trailed by 17,515 votes in Mannargudi and expressed confidence that a similar mood of defeating DMK, among people, prevails now also.
But Rajaa dismisses the issue as "AIADMK flogging a dead horse" and said this will not affect his prospects.
The constituency was represented by CPI five times since 1967, while DMK and Congress candidates have also won the seat.