In Tamil Nadu CM’s model village, lack of jobs stands out amid infra, edu push
Residents of Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s native Siluvampalayam village fondly recall how he would ride a motorcycle as a young man, source jaggery from sugarcane farmers, and sell it at a market in Erode. They say Palaniswami’s personality has not changed much even as he has the state’s top job. They are happy over the development he brought to the village but lament a lack of job opportunities, particularly for educated young people.
Palaniswami’s village has good roads, roundabouts shaded by bougainvillea, and streetlights amid rolling fields. It also has an arts and sciences college. He inaugurated the college in 2014 and made higher education accessible particularly to women like M Lavanya, 24.
Lavanya, an MBA graduate, who belongs to a most backward fisherfolk community, completed her undergraduate and master’s courses from the college as a topper. After campus placement, she moved to Chennai’s Tata Consultancy Services, where she worked for three months before returning home to get married. She later took another job before quitting again to take care of her child. Lavanya now plans to take up a local panchayat office job for ₹4,000. Her husband, a mechanical engineer by training, has been forced to work as a mason. “There is no value for our degree here,” said Lavanya.
Lavanya is grateful that she at least got educated because of the college, where she shifted to from a private college, 20-kilometer away when it was opened in her village. “In our village, they would not let girls’ study after class 12. It is only because of this college that our families are allowing us to study,” she said. “The chief minister has done a lot for us here. We see him often when he comes for our sports day or annual day.” Lavanya added rising fuel prices are being talked about against the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
Agriculture and textile manufacturing are the prime job-generating sectors in the area of predominantly Gounder community of Palaniswami, Vanniyars, and Nadars.
Residents say Palaniswami is expected to win his seat with a higher margin for the fifth time in the April 6 elections. Palaniswami, who joined the AIADMK in 1974, was elected to the assembly earlier in 1989, 1991, 2011, and 2016.
L Ilaykya, a shopkeeper, said she will vote for the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) like the rest of her family, but added she wants Palaniswami to be re-elected from his constituency. “Women have security financially through government schemes, farm loans, and jewellery loans waivers,” said Ilaykya, who belongs to the Nadar caste. “The road infrastructure and lights at night also offer us protection. Even the care at government hospitals is better than private facilities.”
Another DMK supporter, M Mani, a farmer, said he too hopes Palaniswami will win so that their area continues to develop. Mani’s brother, K Subramani, who died in 2016, was a DMK panchayat leader. “Since his death, I have been supporting him [Palaniswami],” said Mani, a Gounder. He praised Palaniswami for farm loan waiver and redirecting surplus water from the Cauvery and added it will work to his advantage. Mani added DMK candidate Sampathkumar’s also enjoys a good reputation, but the people are more familiar Palaniswami.
P Madeshwaran, a tailor and another Palaniswami supporter, said they do not require anything for free if basic amenities are met. “If farmers have enough water...there is no requirement for loan waivers,” said Madeshwaran, who farms whenever there is water. Madeshwaran, a Vanniyar, said the 10.5% reservation for the community that Palaniswami announced just before elections would be useful. “There are two graduates in my family who are weaving cloth along with my wife at home. With this reservation, it will help them get jobs at least in nearby places since there is no job opportunity here.”
The college in the village remains the most talked about. It has a sprawling campus with three blocks where arts, sciences, and polytechnic courses are taught to 680 women and 780 men. “The locality is backward, and this college will uplift them,” said the college principal, Venkareswaran. “90% of them [students] are from MBC [most backward castes] and 5% from BC [backward castes] and 5% from SC [scheduled castes]. They are the first graduates of their families. The chief minister has focussed on infrastructure and education development.”
Palaniswami’s house is located in the village, around 10-kilometres from Edappadi town, adjacent to that of his brother Govindaraj’s. The houses stand out among the cement-floored modest homes alongside well-laid tar roads, plantain, and sugarcane farms.
Govindaraj, a farmer, said his brother has come up through the ranks. “We always knew he will be in a high position but coming from a small village we never thought he would one day be ...the chief minister,” Govindaraj. He added they are a close-knit family with an elder sister. “Whenever he is in Salem, he comes home. We do not discuss politics...”
A Thalli, a neighbour, said the chief minister’s father donated land to them as they worked for him to build a house.
But Thali is unhappy. “Yes, he is the chief minister. So what? How has our life changed?” Her son, A Murugan, said he has spoken to the chief minister about the lack of jobs. “He [Palaniswami] is a good man,” said Murugan. “The chief minister has done all sorts of work on the farm. When he says he understands farmers’ plight, it is true. He has a lot of support here. But lack of jobs is leaving us frustrated.”
On a farm nearby, a group of women wished the constituency had an industry where they could work. “We have been working in these farms under the scorching sun for more than 40 years; all for ₹200 a day,” said Arasamani, showing her palms that have bruises and boils. “I do not have any other option. My son is physically and mentally disabled. So, I have to take care of him.”
Unemployment is a key poll issue for Sampathkumar, 36, who is making his electoral debut by contesting against Palaniswami. “The chief minister and his family grew but the constituency and even his own party men have not seen growth,” said Sampathkumar. “He could have done so much more here but he only gave good roads on which he travels... I have promised that we will make job opportunities available; provide basic amenities and create a textile park for the weavers.”
M Murugan, Edappadi town secretary, insisted the people are very supportive of the government’s initiatives. “It shows the support and faith they have in the chief minister.”