Debating India

TAMIL NADU

Water candidate & his sweating army

Saturday 6 May 2006, by MENON*Jaya

Avinashi (Coimbatore), May 5 : It’s a mixture of skin, sweat and water which is causing quite a flutter in Avinashi constituency. Mohan Raj, nicknamed the ?water candidate’, has the electorate here agog with his bare-bodied campaign. The candidate and his supporters have shed their shirts, vowing to wear them again only after a scheme for storing surplus water in the constituency, hanging fire since 1992, is implemented.

People turn and stare, children run behind the jeep and there are even catcalls. But the Federation for the Implementation of Avinashi-Athikadavu Ground Water Recharge Scheme means business. The first time the outfit fielded a candidate in the constituency in Coimbatore district, in the 2001 Assembly election, it polled 39,599 votes, securing second place, pushing the DMK candidate to the third place. This time, seeing the interest he has evoked, the BJP withdrew its candidate and decided to back Mohan Raj.

The outfit has just one election promise - to get the Avinashi-Athikadavu Ground Water Recharge Scheme implemented in the drought-prone constituency. The scheme envisages the building of a check dam at a point near Avinashi where the Bhavani and the Kunda rivers meet so that the surplus water which flows into the sea could be saved and used for agriculture by the 25-lakh people spread across seven Assembly constituencies falling within Coimbatore and Erode districts.

??Ground water has receded to below 1,500 feet and borewells cannot be dug. Successive governments have ignored the issue completely though the Rs 300-crore project was taken up for feasibility study way back in 1992,’’ points out Mohan Raj.

A month back, 2,000 members of the outfit, mostly farmers, tonsured their heads and followed their candidate when he went to file his nomination, mostly as a token of protest. But with the main contest centered on the CPI (M Arumugam) and AIADMK (R Prema), Mohan Raj is bound to lose, particularly when voters are wondering where the bare-bodied chaps disappeared after the last election. Members of the outfit have now threatened to shed all their clothes if the new government failed to implement the scheme.

jaya.menon@expressindia.com

See online : The Indian Express

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