Virudhunagar Lok Sabha Election 2024: Explosive BJP vs Congress Battle Expected in India’s Fireworks Manufacturing Hub – News18

Virudhunagar Lok Sabha constituency is one of the 39 parliamentary constituencies in Tamil Nadu. (Getty)

Virudhunagar Lok Sabha constituency is one of the 39 parliamentary constituencies in Tamil Nadu. (Getty)

Virudhanagar will vote in phase 1 of the Lok Sabha polls on April 19 and results will be declared on June 4

Virudhunagar Lok Sabha constituency is one of the 39 parliamentary constituencies in Tamil Nadu. It comprises six assembly segments, namely Virudhunagar (DMK), Sivakasi (INC), Sattur (DMK), Aruppukottai (DMK), Tirumangalam (AIADMK) and Tirupparankundram (AIADMK). While the first four segments are located in the Virudhunagar district, the latter two are situated in Madurai district. The current MP is B Manickam Tagore of the Congress who is also in the fray this time. Radikaa Sarathkumar of BJP and V Vijaya Prabakaran of DMDK are also contesting. The constituency will vote in Phase 1 on April 19 and results will be declared on June 4.

Political Dynamics

  • INC Looks to Retain Its Bastion: The Virudhunagar Lok Sabha constituency is among the few Congress strongholds in Tamil Nadu. Being the hometown of Congress stalwart Kamaraj, a “kingmaker” who helped bring then prime minister Indira Gandhi to power in 1966, makes the constituency a Congress bastion of sorts. B Manickam Tagore, who has been fielded by the Congress again, won the seat in 2009 and 2019. Tagore faces an uphill task in retaining Virudhunagar this time around as the contest has turned triangular with the entry of BJP’s Radikaa Sarathkumar and DMDK’s Vijaya Prabhakaran. Apart from Congress’ own voter base in Virudhunagar, the DMK’s organisational strength and voter base is at the Congress’ disposal as well. Like in 2019, this could prove to be the factor that helps Manickam Tagore retain the seat.
  • The Tagore Card: Tagore is generally seen as an MP who has worked for the betterment of his constituents, bringing development to the region and raising issues faced by the people. Also, he is credited with being close to industrial workers in Virudhunagar, especially those engaged in firework-related work. Sivakasi, which is India’s hub for fireworks manufacturing, has at least 3 lakh people directly employed by the industry while 5 lakh people depend on it indirectly. However, Tagore was recently caught in a soup when videos surfaced showing cash being distributed among people for attending the Congress leader’s campaign. Tagore also does not pull his punches. Mounting an attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Congress leader has claimed Indian democracy is now in danger. Tagore claims that rising unemployment rates and the increasing price of essential commodities were major issues plaguing the country, adding that these will be the major poll plank of the INDI alliance. Tagore has also claimed that the BJP is a party keen on laying foundation stones for projects, but not executing them thereafter. On ground, the Congress is running a very visible campaign and is focussing on these issues to convince people that the BJP should be a no-go zone for them. Tagore has also been highlighting his work, and claims to have executed several projects, including claiming credit for the new terminal at Madurai airport, boosting international connectivity, and the Madurai-Kanniyakumari four-lane National Highway via Virudhunagar. Whether voters see through these tall claims remains to be seen.
  • Caste Dynamics: The major castes in Virudhunagar include Tamil-speaking Nadars and Mukkulathors, apart from several Telugu-speaking castes such as Naidus, Reddys, and Rajus. In Virudhunagar too, voting patterns are influenced by caste dynamics. It is anticipated that the Mukkulathors will support Tagore due to his belonging to the community as has happened previously.
  • BJP Hopes for an Undercurrent: The BJP hopes to stage an upset for the Congress in Virudhunagar and, to do that, it has fielded actress Radikaa Sarathkumar to take on Manickam Tagore. Radikaa often incorporates the success of Tamil films like ‘Surya Vamsam’ and ‘Naattaamai’, which feature her husband actor Sarathkumar (who recently merged his party All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi with the BJP), into her speeches, adding a cinematic flair. Radikaa has been attracting women voters of Virudhunagar, while the local BJP unit hopes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign will provide the party with a crucial fillip to take on the Congress-DMK combine. However, voters of Virudhunagar do not appear to be very well-versed with who Radikaa is and what she stands for. To add to the BJP’s woes here, Radikaa is not from Virudhunagar, and hails from Chennai. Radikaa, faced with an outsider tag, is hoping that the upper castes, including Naidus — the community to which she belongs — will support her by voting for BJP. However, the BJP can take solace in the fact that it is taking Congress head-on in Virudhunagar. As seen in the 2014 and 2019 elections, the BJP holds the ability to stage surprises on seats where it directly takes on the Congress.
  • Modi Factor: In Virudhunagar, the party will be hoping to cash in on not just BJP’s major anti-Congress campaign, led by PM Modi himself, but also the splitting of votes which the AIADMK-DMDK alliance causes. Above all, BJP is hoping there exists an undercurrent in its favour. Recent crowds at PM Modi’s campaign events indicate that the electoral ground of Tamil Nadu is indeed shifting, although nobody can conclusively point out what this shift means for the saffron party in the immediate future. Ground inputs suggest that while PM Modi is a national phenomenon come elections, in Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar, like in many other parts of the state, a significant portion of the electorate is still influenced by Dravidian politics.
  • “Captain” Prabakaran: The third horse in the race in Virudhunagar is V Vijaya Prabakaran, the son of DMDK founder and late actor Vijayakanth. Vijaya Prabakaran has entered the poll fray banking on the goodwill of his late father in his ancestral area. Like Radikaa, Prabakaran too is a virtual outsider in Virudhunagar having been brought up in Chennai. However, he can at least claim credit for his forefathers belonging to Virudhunagar. Like Radikaa, Prabakaran also belongs to the Naidu community. Prabakaran is a fairly new face in the state’s political landscape. The fortunes of DMDK, once a powerful opposition party in the state, will depend heavily on how he performs. In a state like Tamil Nadu, where every party is putting their best foot forward, it is the delay in Prabhakaran’s political entry that could cost him dearly. The elections of 2024 are a test for the DMDK. Whether the party is able to stay relevant in the politics of Tamil Nadu will largely depend on how the results pan out on June 4. Virudhunagar is one of the seats in Tamil Nadu where the DMDK has considerable influence. Add to that, the Madurai district of the constituency is an AIADMK stronghold, with two MLAs from the region both belonging to the AIADMK. Madurai district of Virudhunagar also has about 40 per cent of the total voters. If the AIADMK can transfer their votes from Madurai to the DMDK, and Prabhakaran can himself dent the DMK and Congress voter base in Virudhunagar, he does stand a chance of emerging as the underdog victor.

Key Issues

  • Firework Industry Troubles: Virudhunagar constituency, which houses Sivakasi, is the fireworks manufacturing hub of India. However, recent restrictions on the use of fireworks and chemicals have plunged the industry into a crisis. As the use of Barium Nitrate is not allowed and as the production of 60 per cent of fireworks is not possible without it, the livelihood of lakhs of workers is at stake. The fireworks industry representatives have been pushing for governmental support to boost production and tap into export opportunities, although nothing concrete has emerged out of such demands yet. Adding to the woes of the labourers and the owners is the closure of 150 small and medium-sized firework units of the total 1,084 in the past six months by the Virudhunagardistrict administration for several violations, including producing joint crackers. While governments remain absent from action, the Supreme Court’s decision to ban barium nitrate continues to adversely impact the lives of poor people. In the past few months alone, close to 40,000 people have lost their jobs here.
  • GST a Prickly Thorn: Talking about industries, there are also complaints regarding GST and how it has impacted businesses in Virudhunagar. This is an issue that could adversely impact the BJP’s prospects here. In fact, GST-related complains are not hard to come by across various constituencies of Tamil Nadu.
  • Madurai AIIMS a Non-Starter: The construction of AIIMS Madurai has become an issue for the opposition to attack the BJP with. With construction only beginning after a five-year delay last month, the DMK and Congress have both questioned the Modi government’s commitment to development in Tamil Nadu, especially Virudhunagar. In the 2021 elections, non-construction of AIIMS was a major poll issue with DMK youth wing secretary Udhayanidhi Stalin brandishing a red brick in his election campaign and saying that he has “brought” the hospital “along with him”. Same is the case with the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER), which the DMK claims has been announced in Madurai but for which work is yet to commence.
  • Corruption: Last year, Virudhunagar district collector VP Jeyaseelan asked the public to file complaints if middlemen at government offices in the district were extorting money from the petitioners seeking assistance. The collector said departmental action will be taken against officials if they are found to be working in cahoots with the middlemen and asked petitioners to directly approach the officials concerned. In November last year, the Chief Educational Officer (CEO) of Virudhunagardistrict D Raman got a case filed against him on charges of allegedly getting donations from the management of government-aided schools in the district for the Virudhunagar Book Fair 2023. Corruption, which the BJP accuses DMK, Congress and AIADMK of rampantly engaging in, has the potential to strike a chord with the people.
  • Madurai Airport: For long, there have been demands for the Madurai airport to be made operational round-the-clock. However, the inability to do so has been pinned on the unavailability of sufficient CISF personnel. Recently, demands have also grown for the Madurai airport to be given the ‘international’ tag. DMK leader Kanimozhi has accused the BJP of ignoring the development of Madurai, saying while airports in many BJP-led state governments like Uttar Pradesh were getting notified as international airports, the Madurai airport was being ignored.
  • Civic Issues: Water-related problems, the state of roads and overall health of civic infrastructure remains a cause of concern across Virudhunagar. The shifting of Kappalur toll gate is a big demand, however, no action has been taken to address the issue.

Demographics

● Total Voters: 15,01,942

● Male Voters: 7,33,127

● Female Voters: 7,68,520

● Rural Voters: 669,231 (45.2%)

● Urban Voters: 811,369 (54.8%)

● SC Voters: 248,741 (16.8%)

● Muslims: 3.5%

● Christians: 3.39%

● Hindus: 90%

Development

  • In 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a new medical college at Virudhunagar, apart from also unveiling 21 other such colleges across Tamil Nadu. The new colleges have been set up under the centrally sponsored scheme of establishing new medical colleges attached with existing district/referral hospital.
  • Virudhunagar is set to house one of the seven Pradhan Mantri Mega Integrated Textile Region and Apparel (PM MITRA) parks being set up across India. The PM-MITRA scheme, first announced in the union budget 2021-22, aims to develop integrated large-scale and modern industrial infrastructure facility for the entire textile value chain, from fibre to fabric to garment. The mega textile park in Virudhunagar will be spread over 1,000 acres of land with ready nearby availability of raw material, fully equipped infrastructure including port, road and rail connectivity, water and power availability, etc.
  • In November last year, the Virudhunagar district administration had invited investments above Rs 1 crore from micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) at the district-level investment conference. Agreements for investment up to Rs 1,550 crore in Virudhunagar district have been signed with the investors so far.
  • In January last year, the Virudhunagar district administration hit the ground running for the construction of a 10-kilometre-long bypass which would decongest vehicular movement within Aruppukottai town. The Aruppukottai western bypass traverses through Srivilliputtur-Parthibanur and Sukkilanatham before linking up with the National Highway. The bypass offers a route for vehicles traveling from Virudhunagar, Rajapalayam, Tenkasi, and surrounding regions headed towards Ramanathapuram and Rameswaram, enabling them to bypass Aruppukottai town.