Tirunelveli Lok Sabha Elections: Will BJP Taste the Tirunelveli Halwa This Time?

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The Tirunelveli constituency will vote in the first phase of Lok Sabha elections on April 19. (PTI/File)

Tirunelveli is one of the five constituencies in Tamil Nadu where the BJP is holding out high hopes. Chasing that hope, the saffron party has this time fielded its sitting MLA from Tirunelveli Assembly seat, Nainar Nagendran, for the Lok Sabha elections

Tirunelveli is one of 39 Lok Sabha constituencies in Tamil Nadu. It is a general category seat and comprises part of the Tirunelveli district. A total of six Assembly segments fall under the Tirunelveli Lok Sabha constituency, of which two apiece are currently held by the DMK (Palayamkottai and Radhapuram) and the AIADMK (Alangulam and Ambasamudram). One each is held by the Congress (Nanguneri) and the BJP (Tirunelveli). The Tirunelveli constituency will vote in the first phase of elections on April 19.

Sitting MP – Gnanathiraviam S (DMK)

Candidates – M Jansi Rani (AIADMK), Nainar Nagendran (BJP), Dr C Robert Bruce (Congress), Sathya (Naam Tamilar Katchi)

Political Dynamics

  • Congress-DMK: As part of its seat-sharing arrangement with INDIA bloc partners, the DMK has parted with the Tirunelveli seat, which it had won in the 2019 elections.
  • The constituency has now gone to the Congress which has fielded advocate Dr C Robert Bruce.
  • The 62-year-old belongs to Saralvilai near Kattathurai in Kanniyakumari district.
  • He had served as the Congress observer for Telangana Assembly polls and the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency in 2019.
  • Bruce’s candidature reportedly came after long and gruelling negotiations among several ticket aspirants. Congress insiders say the intense intra-party competition was the reason the announcement of the party’s Tirunelveli candidate was delayed.
  • Sources say Congress’s Nanguneri MLA Ruby R Manoharan, the MD of Chennai-based Ruby Builders, wanted the Tirunelveli ticket for himself but was countered by Paulraj, another party aspirant.
  • Both Congress and DMK were also reluctant to risk the prospect of a bypoll in the Nanguneri Assembly seat.
  • The supporters of S Peter Alphonse wanted him to be fielded from Tirunelveli, but the former MP bowed out.
  • Robert Bruce entered the fray in Tirunelveli when yet another bid by him for the Nagercoil seat failed.
  • In the 2019 elections, the Tirunelveli constituency had witnessed a fierce battle, with DMK’s Gnanathiraviam S winning by a margin of 1,85,457 votes.
  • Gnanathiraviam had secured a total of 5,22,623 votes to defeat AIADMK’s Paul Manoj Pandian, who had polled 3,37,166 votes.
  • The Congress and DMK had also tied up for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but back then it was the Congress that had left the Tirunelveli seat for the DMK. This had reportedly made local Congress cadre reluctant to support the DMK candidate.
  • This time, it seems to be the DMK cadre’s turn to sulk, with local reports saying many of them are not showing much enthusiasm in campaigning for the Congress candidate.
  • That’s discouraging news for 62-year-old C Robert Bruce who is banking on the grassroots support of the DMK to tap into the Hindu Nadar and Thevar community votes.
  • The DMK leadership has reportedly asked its fisheries and animal husbandry minister Anitha R Radhakrishnan to ensure that Bruce’s campaign is impactful.
  • According to reports, Robert Bruce was made to wait for hours near the Cheranmahadevi bus stand on April 4 because the DMK leader tasked with getting permission for his rally had failed to do so.
  • Some Congress workers are also said to be unhappy that the ticket did not go to Ruby R Manoharan.
  • Chief Minister MK Stalin’s son and Tamil Nadu Minister of Youth Welfare and Sports Development Udhayanidhi Stalin has promised that if the INDIA candidate is voted to power, Tirunelveli will get a railway line to Sankarankovil via Alangulam, Surandai and Senthamaram.
  • Addressing a public rally in Tirunelveli on April 12, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that there is an “ideological battle” taking place in the country between Periyar’s ideas of social justice and equality; and that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and RSS of “one nation, one leader, one language”.
  • The Wayanad MP also slammed the BJP for “ignoring” the demands of farmers and fishermen and highlighted the party’s manifesto promises of giving loan waivers to farmers and subsidies for fishermen.
  • AIADMK: The AIADMK’s Tirunelveli campaign got off to a rocky start, with the party replacing its candidate mid-way.
  • The Edappadi K Palaniswami-led party had first fielded newcomer Shimla Muthuchozhan from Tirunelveli but replaced her with party functionary and Thisaiyanvilai panchayat president M Jansi Rani on March 24.
  • Muthuchozhan had hit the political limelight in 2016 when she was with the DMK and had contested directly against AIADMK matriarch and former chief minister J Jayalalithaa in the 2016 Assembly elections.
  • Reports say mass discontent over her candidature forced the AIADMK leadership to replace her as the Tirunelveli candidate this time.
  • The AIADMK had last won the Tirunelveli seat in the 2014 general elections.
  • In 2014, AIADMK candidate Prabakaran KRP had beat Devadasa Sundaram of the DMK by 1,26,303 votes.
  • The AIADMK, however, lost the seat to the DMK in 2019 elections.
  • Campaigning for Jansi Rani in Thachanallur, Premalatha Vijayakanth, DMDK general secretary and wife of the late actor-politician Vijayakanth, has promised voters that check dams will be constructed across the Thamirabarani River if ally AIADMK is voted to power in Tirunelveli.
  • Premalatha Vijayakanth also promised that construction of the Kulavanigarpuram railway bridge will be completed.
  • BJP: In Tamil Nadu, the BJP is heading a non-DMK, non-AIADMK bloc and is contesting directly from 19 seats, including Tirunelveli.
  • According to BJP leader D Illayaraja and BJP North Chennai district president M Krishnakumar, Tirunelveli is one of the five constituencies in Tamil Nadu where the saffron party is holding out high hopes. The rest are Coimbatore, Kanniyakumari, Nilgiris and Chennai South.
  • Chasing that hope, the BJP has this time fielded its sitting MLA from Tirunelveli Assembly seat, Nainar Nagendran, for the Lok Sabha elections.
  • Nagendran, a former AIADMK leader and former industries minister, is one of the strongest BJP candidates in Tamil Nadu this election season.
  • Nagenthran had reportedly been eyeing the Lok Sabha ticket for long and had even opened his election office in Tirunelveli Junction in February itself.
  • He was said to be apprehensive that the Tirunelveli Lok Sabha seat might be given to Sarathkumar after the actor-turned-politician merged his party AISMK with the BJP.
  • He had adopted a similar tactic in the 2021 Assembly elections, filing his nomination even before the BJP had released its list of candidates. He had allegedly feared losing the Tirunelveli Assembly seat to the AIADMK, then a BJP ally.
  • His current status as Tirunelveli MLA certainly puts Nagendran at an advantage in the Lok Sabha constituency of the same name.
  • But what may also work in his favour is the friction between allies Congress and DMK cadre on the ground.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned in Tirunelveli for Nainar Nagendran and other National Democratic Alliance candidates from the southern districts on April 15.
  • In his February 28 visit to Tirunelveli, Prime Minister Modi had lashed out at the ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu, accusing it of not cooperating in central schemes and had criticised it over walking out in Parliament during a discussion on the Ayodhya Ram temple.
  • On April 7, three persons, alleged to be the supporters of Nainar Nagendran were caught with Rs 4 crore while they were on their way to Tirunelveli via train. The trio had no valid documents to carry the said amount of cash.
  • The DMK has sought action against Nagendran, alleging that he planned to distribute money to voters.
  • Denying the allegations, Nagendran said he had nothing to do with the money that was seized.
  • Speaking to a Tamil TV channel in Tirunelveli, the BJP candidate alleged that it was a “bid to malign my reputation”.
  • Caste factors: Of the 16.54 lakh voters in the constituency, around 3.75 lakh are Hindu Nadars who have been traditionally AIADMK supporters but seem to be leaning towards the BJP this time.
  • BJP candidate Nainar Nagendran is, however, from the Tevar community who account for 2.15 lakh votes.
  • Nagendran has a good shot if he is able to sweep Tevar community votes while also tapping into the Hindu Nadar votes.
  • Nagendran is also said to have the support of Devandra Kula Vellalars and Pillaimars in some areas of the constituency.
  • The BJP is also banking on the 50,000 Brahmin community votes in the constituency.
  • One factor that may work against the BJP candidate is Thevar outfit Nethaji Subash Senai launching a social media campaign against him over alleged inaction when youth from the community were tortured by the police.
  • Also eyeing the Hindu Nadar bloc is AIADMK’s Jansi Rani who belongs to this community.
  • Congress’s Robert Bruce, meanwhile, is hoping for the consolidation of Christian-Muslim voters (2.75 lakh). He belongs to the Christian Nadar community.
  • Modi factor: Contrary to 2019, there is an emergence of the Modi factor in the Tirunelveli constituency this time. When the PM last visited the district in February, the crowd at the venue, some of whom had come from neighbouring districts, spilled outside the grounds.

Key Constituency Issues

  • Illegal stone-mining: This is a burning issue in Tirunelveli with sitting DMK MP Gnanathiraviam accused of benefitting from the trade. His son G Thinakaran has been booked for allegedly stealing and illegally transporting gravel in 2022.
  • Activists say the state government has allowed several quarries to be operational here despite the proximity to the Kudankulam Nuclear Power project.
  • Villagers are also suffering breathing issues and other ailments due to illegal use of high-powered explosives to break the stones.
  • Floods: Residents in villages along the banks of Thamirabarani river have been demanding permanent solution for those living under the constant threat of floods.
  • Torrential rain on December 17 and 18 last year had wreaked havoc in the four southern districts of Tamil Nadu, including Tirunelveli.
  • Around 500 houses were severely damaged. The worst-hit areas were Vanarapettai, Palaya Pettai, Kailasapuram, CN Nagar, Thadiveeran Kovil Theru and Nellai town-Kutralam Road.
  • Farmer woes: Several farmers in Tirunelveli villages have reportedly given up agriculture due to groundwater depletion.
  • Corn farmers of the district have been demanding for decades that wild boar be removed from the list of protected animals mentioned in the Wildlife Protection Act.
  • In December last year, farmer groups protested in front of the Tirunelveli collectorate, dumping sacks full of corn produce damaged by herd of wild boars.
  • On February 13, farmer groups threatened to boycott the general elections if the authorities do not act on the issue.
  • With the December floods ruining their produce, farmers who had borrowed money or pawned gold ornaments to cultivate their fields find themselves in crippling debt.
  • Protests against solar plant: In January this year, Thenkalam villagers had staged protests on Republic Day against plans to set up a private solar plant. Villagers alleged that a private entity claimed to have purchased 150 acres of land for the project but in reality, had obtained only 20 acres legally. They alleged that rest of the land was procured by fraudulent means and fake papers.
  • Nanguneri SEZ Revival: The Nanguneri Multiproduct Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is a 2,500-acre project that has struggled to take off for the past 24 years.
  • It was said to be the pet project of the late Murasoli Maran, but has seen little progress since, even under the DMK regime.
  • It has just eight companies with 400 employees and is nowhere on the industrial map of Tamil Nadu.
  • The SEZ has, in fact, been plagued by burglars who have stolen equipment such as small generators, batteries, motors, fans, laptops, and two bikes.
  • The SEZ has been affected by poor infrastructure development, which has made it less attractive for industries to operate there.
  • The state government has said plans to acquire 1,000 acres of land in the SEZ and develop it into a multi-product joint venture between AMRL and Sipcot.
  • Migration: While Tirunelveli boasts of good higher education opportunities, the lack of industrial development has forced youth to migrate to Chennai and Bangalore to look for jobs.
  • Manjolai tea workers: With the 99-year lease of the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation Ltd (BBTCL) coming to an end in 2028, around 2,000 Manjolai tea estate workers are asking their next MP to provide land and home to them.
  • Many have complained that no candidate or their supporters visited the voters in Manjolai, Kakkachi, Naalumukku and Oothu hamlets.
  • Free patta lands and houses in the plains top their demand.
  • They say the sitting MP, DMK’s Gnanathiraviam, visited Manjolai only once in last five years.
  • Some natives have urged the Tamil Nadu government to take over the tea estate after BMTCL’s 99-year lease ends, so the tea estate workers don’t lose their livelihoods.
  • Water scarcity: Water levels in major dams across Tirunelveli — Papanasam, Manimuthar, Servalar and Vadakku Pachaiyar — are fast depleting in comparison to the past few years, leading to frequent drinking water shortage in the district.
  • Locals and activists have demanded that authorities in southern districts take necessary steps to resolve the water crisis.

Voter Demographics

Social composition

SC — 18.5%

ST — 0.3%

Religious composition

Buddhist — 0%

Christian — 11.12%

Jain — 0.01%

Muslim — 9.86%

Sikh — 0.01%

Major Infra Projects in Tirunelveli

  • Smart City Projects: In February this year, Tamil Nadu minister Youth Udhayanidhi Stalin inaugurated various projects, built under the central scheme for Rs 149.4 crore.
  • The Smart City project aims to leverage technology and innovation to enhance the quality of life and urban infrastructure in Tirunelveli.
  • The project focuses on various aspects such as efficient public services, sustainable development, improved mobility, enhanced safety, and better governance.
  • The implementation of the Tirunelveli Smart City project involves collaboration between government agencies, private sector partners, academia, and local communities.
  • Projects inaugurated under the Smart City scheme include the renovated Tirunelveli Junction Periyar Bus Stand (Rs 85.56 crore), Darling Nagar Stadium (Rs 6.44 crore), a commercial complex worth Rs 14.94 crore, another commercial complex near Palayamkottai bus stand worth Rs 11.73 crore, multi-level car parking (Rs 12.82 crore).
  • Tirunelveli–Tenkasi highway: This is a two-lane highway that is being widened to four lanes. The first phase of work started on February 26, 2021, between Old Pettai and Alangulam, with the goal of completion by September 2, 2022. The second phase began on February 24, 2021, between Alangulam and Azad Nagar. The project is expected to cost Rs 430.71 crore, with funds from the state government and the World Bank.
  • Four-lane upgraded highways: In a major thrust to expanding the infrastructure in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister MK Stalin on March 8 inaugurated two-lane highways that have been upgraded into four-lane roads and opened a bridge across the Kosasthalaiyar river.
  • The total cost of the projects was Rs 518.26 crore.
  • The projects include Tirunelveli-Sengottai-Kollam Road, widened Tambaram-Mudichur-Sriperumbudur Road, Uthiramerur-Bukkathurai Road, and four-lane Cuddalore-Chittoor Road.
  • The bridge was constructed across the Kosasthalaiyar river in Tiruvallur district.
  • Railways: In February, PM Modi dedicated rail projects for the doubling of Vanchi Maniyachchi-Nagercoil railway line, which includes the Vanchi Maniyachchi-Tirunelveli and Melappalayam-Aralvaymoli sections.
  • The electrification and doubling of railway lines will improve connectivity between South Tamil Nadu and Kerala, while easing congestion in Tirunelveli and Nagercoil.
  • Module manufacturing plant: Tata Power Renewable Energy Limited (TPREL) is investing Rs 70,800 crore in renewable energy projects in Tamil Nadu, including a 4.3 GW solar cell and module manufacturing plant in Tirunelveli. The plant will be located at Gangaikondan and will generate 101 million units of electricity and offset around 72,000 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. The plant will be commissioned 12 months after the signing of the project development agreement (PDA).

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