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Ill health leaves the queen apathetic

By D. Radhakrishnan

A saying often recalled, particularly on environment-related fora in the Nilgiris, is that, "on the health of the hills depends the wealth of the plains". However, for some time now the Blue Hills have not been healthy.

Unfavourable weather has not only hit farmers particularly tea growers and affected water supply but also altered conspicuously the atmosphere in the hill station, causing a negative impact on its tourism-dependent economy. There is no end in sight to the crisis in the tea industry.

In this scenario, people in both urban and rural parts of the district are "unenthusiastic" about the Lok Sabha polls.Perhaps gauging the mood of the people and also as the day of reckoning is still several weeks away, the Democratic Progressive Alliance and the All- India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Bharatiya Janata Party combine are maintaining a low profile. Apart from poll graffiti written on the compound walls of a few private buildings and some cars sporting party flags, there is no sign to indicate that elections were a just a little more than a month away. The Congress candidate, R. Prabhu, launched his campaign only on Monday.

In fact, there is more speculation of how successful the coming tourist season will be than who will emerge victorious at the hustings. "Already weather and water scarcity are making us spend sleepless nights and we hope that election-related events will not add to our woes", said a hotelier.

In the Nilgiris constituency, the Udhagamandalam, Gudalur and Coonoor Assembly segments are in the hills of the district and Thondamuthur, Mettupalayam and Avinashi are in the plains of Coimbatore district.

Though the constituency bears the name of this district, the number of voters in the Coimbatore segments is more. As a result, the reflection of the poll issues in the Nilgiris in the voting pattern cannot be expected to be same throughout the constituency.

However, as in the last Assembly elections, tea industry problems, which have altered the economic and social profile of the Nilgiris, are expected to dominate the campaign.

The early days of the unprecedented crisis in the industry about four years ago witnessed violent demonstrations, which had been alien to the ethos of the district.It led to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam being drubbed in the elections.With the industry in the doldrums, the State and Union governments have been mooting alternatives such as floriculture, pointing out that the conditions here are ideal for cultivation of cut flowers, which have a good demand in both domestic and foreign markets. However, a majority of the tea growers are hoping for a revival of the `good old days' and reversal of the recent trend of tea planters going to the plains in search of employment.

The main contenders for the hand of the queen (the Nilgiris constituency) are the member of the 13th Lok Sabha M. Master Mathan of the BJP, a Badaga tea planter, and the battle-scarred veteran Congressman R. Prabhu, who represented this constituency for four terms since 1980 and then unsuccessfully contested the three elections which followed.

The Nilgiris constituency comprises the Udhagamandalam, Coonoor (Reserved) and Gudalur Assembly segments in the Nilgiris district, and Mettupalayam, Avinashi (Reserved) and Thondamuthur in Coimbatore district.

Total electorate in the district: 5,41,036 (men 2,62,214 and women 2,78,822)

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