The residents of Poolampatti town, situated on the Cauvery river bank a few kilometres from Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami’s Siluvampalayam residence, have been waiting for a bridge connecting their town to the other side of the river for many years now. While the ferry service is a charming attraction to the tourist town, it’s an inconvenience during emergencies, they say. But this doesn’t hold them back from reciting a slew of benefits that they feel the Edappadi constituency and the surrounding region have received, since their local MLA unexpectedly became the Chief Minister four years back. “We are proud that a man from our soil has gone on to become CM,” says Subramaniam, who runs a tea shop in Poolampatti.
“Compared to previous years, this region was given a lot more focus during his term,” he says, going on to list things he can recall — from recently built roads and flyovers in Salem district, the Mettur surplus water scheme, the livestock research institute in Thalaivasal and various other government colleges, to Amma parks and gyms set up in the region, many of which were inaugurated by the CM in person. “We wish our town had also gotten the bridge or a park. But overall the region has seen a lot of growth, beyond our expectations,” says Nagaraj, who runs a clothes ironing shop nearby, adding that it was only possible after one of their own people became the Chief Minister.
Ferry point at Poolampatti
In spite of his sudden and rapid political rise, CM Palaniswami has repeatedly attempted to project himself as a common man, a ‘farmer’ of humble origins. Some, like Nagaraj, say that they continue to see him as an approachable man with no newfound airs. However, it is mostly members outside of the farming community who cite his origins, noting various schemes targeted towards farmers as a mark of the politician coming from an agriculturist family and understanding their concerns.
However, a few farmers and farm workers from Siluvampalayam and surrounding villages, who also belong to the same community of Gounders as the CM, say that they are unimpressed. Alleging that it was only at the tail-end of his term that promises like uninterrupted electricity for farmers and farm loan waivers were made, Mahendran, a farmer of the Gounder community from the Edappadi constituency says, “Whether the CM is from a farmer family or not doesn’t have much effect on governance. Not much was done in the past five years, especially for small farmers and farm workers.”
Farm land in Konerupatti, close to Siluvampalayam
Velmurugan, a Gounder farm worker from Konerupatti, echoes these thoughts and says, “He might have done what he could in a short period. Things may look different from outside but not much has changed. If we want alternative work, we still have to go to Salem or Coimbatore. There hasn’t been any industrial growth here, job prospects haven’t changed much.” Agreeing with him, Murugan, a farmer who also occasionally works as a driver, says, “We wish there were more job opportunities and not just roads and flyovers.”
The contentious farm laws have not been a major issue locally, says Mahendran, as farmers here are yet to realise the potential long-term impact of these laws. "However, the fact that the CM appears unassertive and compliant in front of the BJP is a black mark on his otherwise successful term,” says a government employee from Edappadi town. “Still, after becoming CM, he has changed himself and his mindset a lot to get work done for the people,” he adds.
Palaniswami’s Gounder community is one of the two dominant communities in the region, along with Vanniyars. While the DMK has fielded a Vanniyar candidate, 37-year-old T Sampath Kumar, several members of the Vanniyar community, like Valli, who runs a fish stall, say they are happy with the promise of 10.5% reservation for Vanniyars within the 20% MBC (Most Backward Classes) quota. “It shows that they (Palaniswami and the AIADMK) are committed to deliver on promises,” she says.
This is the sixth time that Palaniswami is contesting from Edappadi since 1989, having won four out of five times so far. The only time he lost was in 2006, to a candidate from the PMK (Pattali Makkal Katchi), a party which has been demanding the Vanniyar quota for a long time and is now in alliance with the AIADMK.
This is the first time that Palaniswami is contesting from his hometown as the CM face. Several constituents say that while they think he might win again from his stronghold, they anticipate a regime change, and see the Chief Ministerial stint as a short-lived one.
Whether their “local, accessible” leader has managed to create a strong legacy, remains to be seen, says the government employee from Edappadi town. “In our textbooks, we used to read about big leaders like Anna and Kamarajar. We used to have leaders from these parts of the state who were known faces, like former Education Minister C Aranganayagam. But in the future, which politicians kids will read about in history books remains a question mark,” he says.