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No delimitation blues for Mani Shankar Aiyar

By Saubhadro Chatterji in New Delhi
February 16, 2009 13:37 IST
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With the delimitation exercise changing the face of Lok Sabha constituencies, many members of the Lower House may have to work hard to adapt to new political contours. But Mani Shankar Aiyar, the union panchayat minister, can rest in peace. He is the only Member of Parliament who could resurrect his constituency (Mayiladuturai in Tamil Nadu's Nagapattinam district) after it was declared abolished by the delimitation commission.

Mayiladuturai, from where Aiyar won in 1991, 1999 and 2004, and lost twice, was divided between the neighbouring Chidambaram, Nagapattinam and Thanjavur Lok Sabha constituencies in the initial delimitation draft.

"I did what any MP should do -- read the law carefully to take up the matter. I found the law says that the delimitation should take into account three factors: geographic contiguity, economic consideration and public interest, to readjust the constituencies," says Aiyar, who challenged the Commission on all the three grounds in a public hearing two years ago and won the case.

On the geographical front, Aiyar's contention was that the Commission had not taken into account river Kollidam, which is at its broadest along the northern reaches of the Mayiladuturai constituency, when it falls into the Bay of Bengal.

"I told the Commission that apart from a railway bridge made by the British, there were no road connections between Chidambaram and the town of Kollidam on the south bank, which will fall in the same constituency if the draft is retained. As there is no link between the two sides for the next 30 km till Annakarai, and the draft proposes to bring two Assembly segments of south bank and Kattumannarkoil in north, only a fish would be able to swim between these Assembly segments. So, the geographical contiguity was violated."

Aiyar also argued that in the Cauvery delta region in the south of river Cauvery, the main economic activity was agriculture, whereas in Chidambaram lignite mining was the prime occupation. "As the Cauvery Tribunal has recently given its final award, it would be tragic to now link the fortunes of agriculture with completely unrelated mining activities," he told the Commission.

And finally, on the public interest front, Aiyar and his aides managed to get signatures of almost 150,000 voters of Mayiladuturai opposing the abolishment of their constituency.

While the likes of Jitin Prasad of Shahjahanpur or Varakala Radhakrishnan of Chirayinkil will be contesting from absolutely new constituencies as their pet places have been abolished by the delimitation exercise, Aiyar can breathe easy on another count as well. Although his state has a high percentage of Scheduled Castes population, his constituency is saved from getting reserved.

For this, Aiyar says, "Fortune favours the brave. According to the law, no two adjacent constituencies can be declared reserved. Since Nagapattinam was already reserved, I was saved."

Even as there is the advantage of retaining an old, known seat, the tough challenge for him will be to fight against the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam on the basis of the dwindling stock of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Congress alliance. The Congress is unsure if it can even retain the five seats that it had won last time in Tamil Nadu. But the union panchayat minister is a happy man for the time being for another, altogether different reason.

In the rebirth of Mayiladuturai, Aiyar has lost just one block but gained two others.  And one of it in Papanasam, which consists of his mother Bhagyalakshmi's birthplace -- Shulamangalam. Aiyar, a former Foreign Service bureaucrat born in Karachi, went to the village, found the ancient home of his mother and even discovered a few relatives.

During the last 18 years of his political career in Mayiladuturai, he was actually an outsider. But now, Aiyar can at least proudly say that he is mannin mainthar (the son of the soil).

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Saubhadro Chatterji in New Delhi
Source: source