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    Southern region may be key to power in TN polls

    Madurai: Southern Tamil Nadu, comprising nine districts with 58 constituencies, may hold the key to the next government with candidates of DMK and AIADMK sweating it out to prove their strength in this crucial region which had given a surprise lead to the ruling combine in 2006 elections.

    With Union Minister and DMKs strongman M K Alagiri making the winning majority of the seats from this region as a prestige issue, stakes are high for the ruling party in the region -- Madurai to Kanyakumari at the southernmost tip of the Indian peninsula. The fate of eight state ministers from these districts would be sealed on Wednesday.

    Most of the southern districts Madurai, Sivaganga, Theni, Dindigul, Ramanathapuram, Virudhunagar, Tuticorin, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari -- have always been with AIADMK ever since it was floated by late matinee idol M G Ramachandran but things changed after Alagiri came into political limelight.

    Under his leadership, DMK made inroads into traditional AIADMK strongholds and it was evident in the 2006 Assembly polls when the DMK-Congress combine had won 41 of the 63 seats.

    The AIADMK-MDMK won 22 seats but they drew a blank in Ramanathapuram and Kanyakumari districts. This performance was repeated in the Lok Sabha elections when the Opposition combine had won only one out of the total 10 seats in the region. While DMK is contesting 34 seats in the nine districts, Congress is in fray in 17 and the rest seven are being shared by PMK and other smaller parties.

    Archrivals AIADMK and DMK are facing each other in 24 constituencies in the region. The "mother of all battles" is in Madurai, where Alagiri lives, with DMK and AIADMK clashing in four constituencies. While DMK is working hard to retain their seats, AIADMK is pulling out all stops to break the ruling party's grip over the region.

    AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa has asked her party cadres in the South to work very hard to get maximum number of seats from here and to re-establish that these districts will always support her party. AIADMK's Madurai District Secretary Sellur K Raju said people in and around Madurai "are fed up with the rowdyism by Alagiri and his company" and the people are yearning for a change.

    "People want this misrule to end. Especially in Madurai, DMK will be washed out, thanks to Alagiri and his group of supporters. People are fed up of the DMK government. The entire South will be clean sweep for us" Raju claimed.

    Contesting his claim, DMK's Madurai District Secretary Thalapathi said Alagiri's "hard work" will pay off this time in the Assembly elections and DMK will sweep all the nine districts in the South. "In Madurai alone, DMK's government schemes have made a big impact here and elsewhere," he claimed.

    As far as Madurai is concerned, besides power cut and rising prices of essential commodities, people remember the yet-to-be unfulfilled promises like international airport status to Madurai Airport and construction of more flyovers. Elsewhere in the region, people complain about unscheduled power cuts, rampant corruption and alleged rise of rowdyism in the southern districts.

    2G spectrum scam appears to have made only a little impact in the minds of rural voters.

    High-profile constituencies like Andipatti, represented once by MGR and twice by Jayalalithaa, and Bodinayakannur, from where senior AIADMK leader O Pannerselvam is contesting, may go AIADMK way, in line with the tradition. Theni district has always been a stronghold of AIADMK.

    Caste equation is likely to play a major role in the victory of candidates in Theni, Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Ramanathapuram districts. Mukkulathor is the largest community in the southern districts and usually it goes with AIADMK. But
    DMK claims this time they have made inroads into the Thevar vote bank too.

    Victory in constituencies like Tenkasi, Tirunelveli, Palayamkottai and Nagercoil depends on how the dominant communities vote. Fringe parties like All India Forward Bloc, Puthiya Tamizhagam and Sarath Kumar s Samathuva Makkal Katchi are also contesting the polls as part of the AIADMK combine.

    This could split Dalit and Nadar votes in these districts and even Thevar votes could be divided in constituencies like Tenkasi where the community s strongman Karuppasamy Pandian is locking horns with Sarath Kumar, an influential Nadar community man.

    In the southern-most Kanyakumari district, bordering Kerala, religion holds key to the victory of the candidates as the long-held rivalry between Hindu Nadars and Christian Nadars still persists.

    With considerable presence in this district, BJP is working hard to enter the Tamil Nadu Assembly on its own for the first time. Party s state unit chief Pon Radhakrishnan, a former union minister, is contesting from re-drawn Nagercoil constituency.

    Radhakrishnan, a Hindu Nadar, is hoping to romp home from here with more Hindu-dominated areas added to the segment but the key lies with the Christian Nadars. The BJP leader is wooing Christians and Muslims to vote for him but in vain.

    Muslims votes, majority of which have always been cast in favour of DMK, could get split this time with the launching of Manithaneya Makkal Katchi, a Muslim outfit.

    In Kanyakumari, Tourism Minister Suresh Rajan appears to be on a sticky wicket with people complaining about his absence from the constituency as well as "ignoring the well-being" of the people of the region.