Political slugfest again in TN over need for second capital
Historically, Madurai is known for enriching and popularizing the Tamil language by establishing three Sangams (academies). Photo: iStock

Political slugfest again in TN over need for second capital

The recent debate over the need for a second capital has once again brought the topic of Tamil Nadu’s division to fore. What is difficult to comprehend is that is it pure politics or a genuine need of the people who feel deprived of the benefits that development has brought over the years.

North Vs south

Politically speaking, leaders across party lines tend to separate the state into ‘Vada Tamilagam’ (North Tamil Nadu) and ‘Then Tamilagam’ (South Tamil Nadu).

The North Tamil Nadu broadly comprises districts such as Chennai, Kanchipuram, Tiruvallur, Chengalpattu, Vellore, Ranipet, Tirupattur, Tiruvannamalai, Villupuram, Cuddalore and Kallakurichi. Whereas South consists of Madurai, Dindigul, Theni, Sivagangai, Tirunelveli, Virudhunagar, Thoothukkudi, Ramanathapuram and Kanyakumari.

Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Erode, Namakkal and Salem though a part of western Tamil Nadu, have proximity to northern districts. The same happens with Trichy, Karur and Delta districts, which lie in the centre of the state.

Since the western districts are industrially developed, the northern districts used to depend heavily on the west. Over the years, the line between north and west has disappeared, because of local migration between the districts. So many a time, politicians tend to consider western and central districts as part of North Tamil Nadu.

Why clamour for Madurai as second capital?

The popular phrase of Dravidian leader C.N. Annadurai ‘Vadakku Vaazhgirathu, Therku Theigirathu’ (the north is flourishing but the south is waning) can be applied to Tamil Nadu, if one goes by the division of districts. This could be the reason why some ministers want Madurai as the second capital.

Historically, Madurai is known for enriching and popularizing the Tamil language by establishing three Sangams (academies). In ancient times, it was a place where three divisions of Tamil – Iyal (literature), Isai (music) and Natakam (theatre) were patronised. It is this reason why Madurai could produce several literary figures and filmmakers over the years.

Barring Madurai, other districts of South are notorious for caste violence. These areas are still far away from rapid urbanisation. For example, if a person from Madurai needs to travel to Chennai by train, he or she has to book the ticket at least two months early to travel comfortably. But that is not the case when travelling from Coimbatore or Trichy. The railway lines passing through Madurai are mostly single track and the number of trains plying on these routes too is very less. Likewise, if a student wants to study engineering, she has to come to Chennai.

Revenue minister R B Udhayakumar argued that since the bench of Madras High Court and AIIMS hospital are going to come up in Madurai, it should be made the second capital.

There are more reasons why people want Madurai as the second capital. Some 100 km from Madurai, lies Thondi harbour in Ramanathapuram district and 140 km away is Thoothukkudi district, which also has a harbour. If Madurai is made into a capital, these two harbours are likely to see increased trade activities. Other than Sivakasi in Virudhunagar district, there is no major industrial hub in the southern region. Making Madurai as capital can bring about a lot of development in these areas.

“Chennai has become congested. Areas nearby have grown well, but in the south, there is no IT park or big industries in any of the 13 districts. The state’s development should have been equal across districts,” said K. Manavalan, a lawyer, who has been raising the issue of down south since 1998.

When asked if making Madurai the second capital means building a separate secretariat, Manavalan said it will suffice if Madurai gets facilities that gives the people a feel of living in a capital. “Like we have a Madras HC bench, the branches of some of the departments must be opened in Madurai. In that way, people from the south can save a lot of time and energy in travelling to Chennai,” he added.

Is Trichy an option to Madurai?

Opposing the case of Madurai, tourism minister Vellamandi Natarajan said that Trichy must be made the second capital, because it has facilities that match Chennai’s starting from an international airport to central industrial institutions like BHEL, Ponmalai Railway Workshop to educational institutions like NIT and IIM.

It is not the first time that Trichy’s name has come up for second capital. In 1983, the then chief minister M.G. Ramachandran contemplated shifting the state administration fully to Trichy, because Chennai was getting congested, had problems of drinking water and is geographically located in a corner. However, the proposal was later given up because Trichy and its surrounding areas have the largest fertile lands in the state, thanks to river Cauvery.

It is interesting to note that when MGR proposed shifting the capital to Trichy, DMK opposed it vehemently. But now, even senior leaders of the party, like KN Nehru, want the second capital in Trichy.

“Trichy is in the centre. One can reach Trichy within 5 to 6 hours from anywhere in the state. There were plans to bring a bench of Madras High Court here, but then it moved to Madurai. Similarly, a hospital was planned on par with AIIMS in 2002, but that was moved to Salem and the AIIMS was also taken to Madurai,” said V.E. Govindarajalu, general secretary of Tamil Nadu Vanigar Sangangalin Peramaippu.

A ploy to gain dominance?

Though several ministers claim that having a second capital in Madurai is necessary for efficient administration, many see it as a ploy of certain communities to gain dominance in the government. Till AIADMK’s J. Jayalalithaa was alive, she gave importance to both Mutharaiyar and Mukkulathor communities. Some of the important portfolios were shared between Mutharaiyars and Thevars. But after Edappadi K. Palaniswami came to power, the ratio has changed due to the dominance of the Kongu belt.

Can the two communities that feel sidelined now, reclaim their dominance by making their respective districts into capital? “No, I don’t think so. Because today, both the communities are spread over seven districts. This ploy can help only for political diversion,” says well-known political commentator Tharasu Shyam, adding, “Anyway, the state has no power to announce an additional capital on its own. It needs the Centre’s nod.”

Shyam suggested that the state can call it a ‘capital for particular departments’. “For example, Coimbatore can be made as a capital for industries, Trichy can be a capital for agriculture and Madurai for some other. That will be really helpful to the people. If the state plans to have such a capital, it should announce within the next couple of months. If they delay it further, the Code of Conduct will come into force,” Shyam added.

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