Will the West TN bastion back AIADMK sans Jaya?

AIADMK supporters during an election campaign led by Deputy Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu O Panneerselvam in Chennai, Friday, April 05, 2019. (PTI Photo)

When DMK-Congress combine dominated every other region in 2016 assembly polls, it was the ‘Kongu heartland’ comprising of seven districts that stood like a rock behind the AIADMK helping the charismatic J Jayalalithaa retain Fort St. George, Tamil Nadu’s seat of power, in 2016 – a remarkable feat that was achieved last by her mentor M G Ramachandran.

Though Jayalalithaa is no more, the ruling AIADMK is relentlessly hoping that the “soul” of the late charismatic leader, who is still etched in the memories of lakhs of people, will pull them through the Kongu region, which constitutes for eight Lok Sabha seats.

Winning Kongu or Western region is distinctly significant for the AIADMK and Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, whose government is precariously placed numerically, not just because he hails from this region but the dominant Gounders, the community to which he comes from, have always favoured Jayalalithaa’s party than the DMK. AIADMK won 41 out of 47 assembly seats in 2016 assembly polls.

It is this confidence that perhaps led to AIADMK contesting seven out of eight seats in this region – only Coimbatore has been allotted to ally, BJP. If the AIADMK fumbles here, the party would not just lose its bastion – the region had stood behind Jayalalithaa in assembly elections held in 2006, 2011 and 2016 – but would rob the Chief Minister his prestige.

Caste-equations, the Chief Minister’s “developmental works”, particularly in and around Salem, the negativity that rival DMK earned during its 2006-2011 tenure owing to notorious power cuts, the sway that the Two Leaves still holds in the hinterland and a liking for Prime Minister Narendra Modi among industrialists are some of the factors that are inclined towards the AIADMK-BJP in this region.

And things don’t look that rosy for the ruling party in western region like other parts of state -- the party looks comfortable in Pollachi where its nominee C Mahendran has struck chord with the masses by being accessible and former minister M S M Anandan appears swimming against the GST and demonetisation tide in Tiruppur, where the rival is a CPI nominee.

The BJP, which has robust party machinery, hopes to capture Coimbatore pinning all its hopes on the groundwork it has done for the past three years and the unflinching AIADMK vote bank in the industrial city. Erode, Namakkal and Salem are witnessing see-saw battle and could go either way since the DMK has also tied-up with a party that claims to represent the Gounders.

Far from the hustle-bustle, former Union Telecom Minister and DMK’s Dalit face A Raja seems pretty comfortable in the cool climbs of Nilgiris, the picturesque hill station, while Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker and AIADMK leader M Thambidurai faces anti-incumbency in Karur.

But there is one factor that could trump all calculations and factors –the anti-Modi sentiments that are perceptible in every part of the state. Besides the anger against Modi, the economic policies of the BJP government like GST and demonetisation might cast a shadow affecting the prospects of the alliance candidates

Add to this, the absence of Jayalalithaa and V K Sasikala’s nephew T T V Dhinakaran raising a rebellion – he is not a major factor in west – and the fact that the AIADMK’s vote bank is being tested on the ground for the first time after Jayalalithaa’s demise. That Palaniswami was the first Gounder to have become the Chief Minister is also a factor that could go in favour of the AIADMK.

Caste card is being played happily by the AIADMK – Palaniswami himself does it though subtly – to keep its fort intact, but whether the Gounders will tilt completely in favour of the party only because of the caste factor is yet to be seen.

“The AIADMK is indulging in polarisation of votes in Kongu region. It can polarise but cannot perform. Edappadi K Palaniswami is not a popular leader who can swing the entire Gounder votes in his favour. In fact, he was a lesser-known leader within the AIADMK even in Salem till he was chosen as Chief Minister by V K Sasikala,” Professor P Ramajayam, Assistant Professor, Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirapalli, told DH.

Ramajayam also said the present AIADMK will not be the same after it loses power in the state. “Palaniswami faces challenge from Dhinakaran who is emerging as an influential leader is dividing the core vote bank of the AIADMK in southern districts where Mukulathors are dominant. Though he is not a factor in west and north, he is certainly a key player in the south,” he said.

Industrialists and entrepreneurs in this region have always favoured Jayalalithaa, but this time they are also not sure of the outcome. “West certainly looks favourable for the AIADMK. And the anti-Modi sentiment is also prevalent. Which would drown what remains to be seen as voting pattern of the people is highly unpredictable. Above all, she (Jayalalithaa) is not alive,” a leading exporter in the western region said, on condition of anonymity.

DMK isn’t strong in west – it lacks credible leadership at the local level – and is manifested in the fact that the party chose to contest only in Salem, Pollachi and Nilgiris on its own, ceding the remaining five by allotting one each to CPI, CPI(M), KDMK, MDMK and Congress.

Industrialists and entrepreneurs are still unforgiving the DMK for the rampant power cuts during its last tenure – they hope the continuity that the BJP would bring if it were to retain power would help their businesses.

The AIADMK is also banking on its ministers P Thangamani and S P Velumani, who have emerged as the eyes and ears of Palaniswami, to win seats in the western region. “Western region is our best bet. We hope to keep our bastion intact and we are working towards victory in all eight constituencies in the region,” a district-level AIADMK functionary said.

 

 

WEST TAMIL NADU Constituencies:

Salem

Namakkal

Karur

Erode

Tiruppur

Pollachi

Coimbatore

Nilgiris

Key Candidates:

C P Radhakrishnan (BJP)

Seat: Coimbatore

M Thambidurai (AIADMK)

Seat: Karur

A Raja (DMK)

Seat: Nilgiris

 

 

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Will the West TN bastion back AIADMK sans Jaya?

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