Should Tamil Nadu have two capital cities? As demand for a second capital city grows in the state, two factions of ministers from the ruling party AIADMK are split between Madurai and Trichy.
Although political analysts have called this “a poll gimmick” ahead of the 2021 state elections, the ministers believe with 38 districts to administer and all departmental heads located in Chennai, a second capital could help decentralise decision-making and decongest the current state capital. Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, however, has brushed aside the clamour, saying “they were views of individuals, and not that of the government.”
So, what are the ministers demanding? Why are they divided between Madurai and Trichy?
Option 1: The Temple City Madurai
In the presence of Tamil Nadu’s Revenue Minister RB Udayakumar, the Madurai West district division of the AIADMK recently passed a resolution that Madurai should be made the second capital of Tamil Nadu.
“If Madurai is declared as the second capital, the southern districts will grow, this will provide opportunities for economic growth, industrial development and growth in employment.”RB Udayakumar, Revenue Minister
He had also suggested that the state government should constitute an expert team to assess Madurai.
The party members here pointed out that Madurai is already equipped with facilities and has good infrastructure such as the Madras High Court Bench in Madurai, an international airport, highways, an upcoming AIIMS hospital and proximity to the Thoothukudi port.
State Cooperation Minister Sellur K Raju, also from Madurai and an important leader in the Cabinet, endorsed the resolution.
Sellur K Raju had said that while Chennai is the state capital, Madurai has been the hub of politics all along.
“It was MGR’s wish to make Madurai the second capital. It was for this reason that the World Tamil Conference was held here, Jayalalithaa often made her politics-related decisions in Madurai. The chief minister and the deputy chief minister must, therefore, do the needful to make Madurai the second capital. Developmental plans must be made keeping Madurai in focus,” he said.
Option 2: Tiruchirapalli or Trichy
Tamil Nadu’s Tourism Minister Vellamandi N Natarajan said on 19 August that Trichy was the perfect fit due to the surplus water from the Cauvery river, air and rail connectivity, and industries. The district party members, too, strongly opposed Madurai as the choice, and said they will rally for Trichy when the issue is raised.
Trichy Congress MP Thirunavukarasu has also rallied for Trichy, stating it is situated in the heart of the state. He also demanded that the new Secretariat be built in Trichy.
What Was MGR’s Appeal for a Second Capital?
In 1981, MG Ramachandran, the former chief minister of the state and founder of the AIADMK, had endorsed Trichy to be made the capital of Tamil Nadu. He had cited drought and lack of water resources in Chennai. However, many reports then suggested that this idea was dropped in the wake of two successive droughts that led to the drying up of the Cauvery river, followed by the water dispute with Karnataka.
While a few AIADMK ministers stated that Madurai was MGR’s dream, many others said it was Trichy.
Sellur K Raja said that MGR’s dream was to make Madurai the second capital and Trichy the first. Veteran leader and DMK chief Karunanidhi had criticised him, saying MGR was merely using it as a diversionary tactic.
A Poll Gimmick?
Many experts believe this is a strategy to lure voters from these regions. The Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly elections will be held in 2021 – the first full-state legislative election without veteran leaders Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi.
“In Madurai and Theni, the people could possibly be more inclined to the AIADMK if there is a poll promise that Madurai could be the second capital after the elections. That can be a bait,” said Sumanth Raman, a political analyst.
Ahead of elections, experts said this is being done in an organised manner without committing to Trichy or Madurai, to ensure votes from the Cauvery delta and the Madurai-Theni belt.
“The chief minister has gone repeatedly to the Cauvery basin area and has said that he is going to launch a big Cauvery rejuvenation scheme. The AIADMK is extremely weak in the Cauvery belt now, especially after the demise of Jayalalithaa. If you look at the last elections, the margin for victory for DMK was huge in this belt of Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam.”Sumanth Raman
Opposition party DMK refused to comment on the issue. Analysts say they don’t want to come off as opposing people from a region.
The Caste Politics
After the demise of Jayalalithaa, a long tussle, party splits and rejoining of factions, Palaniswami became the head of the state and O Panneerselvam, the head of the party and the deputy chief minister. But there have been evident difference of opinions within the party due to caste politics. While the chief minister represents the Gounder community, the deputy Chief Minister represents the Thevars – both being among the most numerous and politically powerful communities in Tamil Nadu.
Sumanth Raman explains that pitching Madurai as the second capital could serve as a sop for the OPS faction as it will garner more support from the Mukkulathor (Thevar) community from Madurai, Theni and Dindugal.
“Now the top leadership is seen to be very heavily Kongu which is Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Erode and Salem. The chief minister, and ministers Velumani and Thangamani come from this Kongu belt. They feel this may be a good way of balancing things out. So they might feel their region is being included and with ministers like Udayakumar and Sellur K Raju,” he told The Quint.