Cuddalore, May 5: The ruling AIADMK is sweating it out to make inroads in the Vanniyar-dominated Cuddalore district even as it is trying to hold sway over 12 constituencies in Villupuram district, located in north-central Tamil Nadu in the May eight Assembly polls.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) are making all efforts to wrest Villpuram from the AIADMK, which won 10 of the 12 seats in the 2001 Assembly elections and has now fielded candidates in ten constituencies. It has allotted one each to its allies, Marumalarchi DMK and Dalit Panthers of India (DPI).
The two districts, which were virtually under the control of DMK and Congress in the 1960s, changed hands when late Chief Minister M G Ramachandran floated the AIADMK in the 1970s.
After MGR's death, the Congress got control, even as the PMK, which came into existence in the 1980s, emerged a new contender.
The AIADMK again swept the polls in 1991 in the two districts, in the sympathy wave following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. After losing in 1996, the party regained popularity in Villpuram while faring badly in Cuddalore.
Like in the southern districts, the caste factor plays a decisive role in the two districts, dominated by Vanniyas and Dalits. If the southern districts witnessed clashes between Dalits and Thevars, these two districts were prone to Dalit-Vanniya enmity.
The rift has gone so deep in Cuddalore district, especially Vrudhachalam, that in one incident two young lovers were burnt alive by the family members of the girl, a Vanniyar, because she fell in love with a Dalit boy. Only after Dalit leader Thol Thirumavalavan and PMK Founder leader Dr S Ramadoss joined hands under the banner of the Tamil Protection Movement have the two districts remained free from communal conflict.
Both Villupuram, comprising 12 Assembly constituencies, and Cuddalore, with nine, predominantly depend on agriculture.
If Cuddalore district can boast of the Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) and high quality cashew production, Villupuram is predominantly a rice and sugarcane producing district.
Besides Dalits and Vanniyas, Christians and Muslims play a decisive role in determining the fate of the candidates.
The ruling AIADMK had an impressive performance in the 2001 Assembly elections, winning as many as nine of 12 seats in Villupuram.
The DMK and Congress had a field day in the two districts till the AIADMK was formed by late Chief Minister M G Ramachandran in 1977. The two parties had to pave the way for the AIADMK in 1977, 1980 and 1984 and could stage a come back only after MGR's death in 1987. In Villupuram district, the AIADMK has now fielded candidates in ten out of 12 constituencies, while giving two sitting seats - Gingee to Marumalarchi DMK (MDMK) and Mugaiyur (Res) to DPI.
In a bid to make its presence felt in Cuddalore district, the AIADMK is contesting five of the ten constituencies, while allotting two each to the MDMK and DPI.
With AIADMK, MDMK and DPI on the one side and the DMK, Congress, PMK, CPI(M) and CPI on the other, the two districts will witness a fierce contest.
Cuddalore has a total population of 22,80,509 of which the electorate constitutes 15,53,679, including 7,96,999 men and 7,83,980 women. The Vanniyas top the list with about 45 per cent, followed by Dalits 38 per cent and fishermen 10 to 15 per cent.
Fishermen living in Cuddalore, Bhuvanagiri and Chidambaram are said to be solidly behind the AIADMK as they are extremely happy that the government built a bridge connecting Sonankuppam and Akkaraigori islands, covering eight villages.
In Chidambaram, Kattumannarkoil and Bhuvanagiri, located around Veeranam lake, farmers engaged in rice and sugarcane cultivation in about 45,000 acre were upset with the AIADMK government's New Veeranam Project, under which water was drawn from Veeranam lake to provide drinking water to Chennai city.
Villupuram district has a total electorate of 22,49,555. Of the population, Vanniyas constitute nearly 50 per cent, while Dalits are 30 per cent. Christians, Muslims and others form the rest.