Chennai: As the Lok Sabha elections assume the contours of a straight fight between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi for the Prime Minister’s job, the constituencies in which the two national parties, the BJP and Congress, are contesting in Tamilnadu for the 18 April polls are drawing special attention.
Though the Congress is fighting from nine constituencies, besides Puducherry, and the BJP from five, a direct fight between the two parties is happening only in Sivaganga and Kanyakumari.
Kanyakumari, now held by the BJP, was also considered a Congress pocket borough since the time it returned K Kamaraj to the Lok Sabha after his ignominious defeat from his hometown, Virudhunagar, in the 1967 Assembly elections.
But this year, the odds are stacked against both the main candidates – BJP’s Pon Radhakrishanan, presently a Union Minister of State, and Congress’ H Vasanthakumar, the richest candidate (as per declared income) in the State.
A communally-polarised constituency since the 1982 Mandaikadu riots, Kanyakumari has shown a penchant to vote on religious lines, often electing a Christian candidate as it has a considerable percentage of minorities.
In the 2014 elections, the Christian votes splintered between several candidates, fielded by various parties, and Radhakrishnan managed to garner sizeable Hindu votes and win. Even then Vasanthakumar came second, perhaps on the strength of the Congress vote bank.
This time, though both the candidates are Hindus, the Christians are likely to vote for the Congress.
However, Radhakrishnan has won the hearts of many people by initiating a few projects in the district that had not seen much of development in the past despite being known for its educational institutions and natural resources.
On the other hand, Radhakrishanan has earned the wrath of nature lovers and eco warriors as his projects allegedly have the potential to ruin the fragile environment.
But Radhakrishnan had endeared himself as a local resident, always being at the beck and call of the people, a trope that might work against Vasanthakumar, who is seen as an outsider – he lives in Chennai, though he has his family roots in the district.
In Sivaganga, BJP’s candidate H Raja is facing tough competition from Karti Chidambaram, the Congress candidate. Both stake claim to Karaikudi nativity. Karti’s father, P Chidambaram, had won the seats a few times.
The BJP does not have a strong party infrastructure to manage an election as it has in Kanyakumari.
While the AMMK may take away the votes that should otherwise go to the BJP since the party is in an alliance with AIADMK, it is not clear whose votes NTK and MNM might spirit away.
Another constituency that the BJP can pin its hopes on is Coimbatore, where the fight is with CPI(M). Even that is not going to be an easy task because as much as BJP’s two-time MP C P Radhakrishnan is popular in the constituency is the CPI(M)’s P R Natarajan, who was elected from there in 2009. Though the AIADMK’s vote bank could favour Radhakrishnan, Natarajan may get the support of the labour force in the industrial city.
That leaves the BJP with Thoothukudi, where its State president Tamilisai Soundarajan is taking on DMK’s Kanimozhi Karunandihi, and Ramanathapuram where BJP’s Nainar Nagendran has been fielded against the IUML candidate, Navas Gani, who has the backing of DMK and Congress.
Nainar Nagendran, who was with the AIADMK till 2017, wields some personal clout in the region but it is to be seen if he can translate that into an electoral victory under the BJP banner.
Though Thoothukudi should see an epic fight between two women politicians, the chances are now for the DMK.
Among the other seats that the Congress is contesting in the State, five are against the AIADMK – Tiruvallur, Krishnagiri, Arani, Karur and Theni – and two – Virudhunagar and Tiruchi – against the DMDK.
Both the DMDK candidates are considered weak on the popularity front which has brightened the prospect of the senior Congress candidates Manickam Tagore (Virudhunagar) and S Thiruvavukarasar (Tiruchi).
In Tiruvallur, Congress candidate K Jayakumar is taking on sitting MP P Venugopal of AIADMK and it may not be an easy fight for the national party.
Similarly Krishanagiri candidate Chellakumar, who has won an MLA seat in Chennai long time ago, is pitted against K P Munusamy, who is a local strongman.
Arani may favour Congress’s M K Vishnu Prasad facing Genji Elumalai, and Karur may go the way of Jothimani fighting M Thambidurai not because of her clout but because of former AIADMK strongman Senthil Balaji, who recently switched over to the DMK.
It is said Senthil Balaji, who ensured the victory of Thambidurai and also the debacle of Jothimani in an election in the past, may now have to travel in the reverse direction.
Finally, E V K S Elangovan is seeking a mandate from Theni opposing P Ravindra Kumar, who is the son O Panneerselvam. Theni is supposedly the bastion of Panneerselvam but it is not known if T T V Dhinakaran is more popular than him in the region.
If Dhinakaran turns out to have more supporters than Panneerselvam, then the traditional AIADMK vote bank may cleave, helping Elangovan. But that needs to be seen.