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4-min read

As BJP-Congress Lock Horns in Kanyakumari, Will Religion and Caste Outweigh Economy Concerns?

The BJP, in 2013, had initiated ‘July Porattam’ or July agitation demanding scholarships for all the poor Hindu students. On coming to power and despite being part of the Union cabinet, Radhakrishnan has not done anything on the issue yet.

Swati Dey | News18.com@swatskat

Updated:April 17, 2019, 2:58 PM IST
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As BJP-Congress Lock Horns in Kanyakumari, Will Religion and Caste Outweigh Economy Concerns?
File photo. Accompanied by Union Ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Pon Radhakrishnan, Modi was with the DMK leader for about 10 minutes before winding up his visit to the city during which he took part in the 75th anniversary celebrations of Tamil newspaper Dina Thanthi. (Image: Kalimuthu Saravanan)
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The people of Kanyakumari will cast their vote during the second phase of Lok Sabha elections on April 18, along with the entire state of Tamil Nadu. It is the lone constituency that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could win during the 2014 general polls, despite the ‘Modi-wave’ that swept the nation.

The constituency was formed after the delimitation in 2008, by merging the Kanyakumari Assembly seat with Nagercoil. The Assembly seat was earlier part of Tiruchendur, which has been a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) bastion in 1999 and 2004. The Kanyakumari parliamentary seat includes six Assembly segments: Kanyakumari, Nagercoil, Colachel, Killiyur, Padmanabhapuram and Vilavancode.

There were 1,467,726 electors in the 2014 polls including 743,378 males and 724,348 females. The voter turnout has improved from 64.99 per cent in 2009 to 67.53 per cent in 2014.

BJP’s Pon Radhakrishnan won the seat in 2014 by defeating H Vasanthakumar of Congress by 128,662 votes. Defeated by a DMK candidate, Helen Davidson J, Radhakrishnan was a runner up in the 2009 polls. He is BJP’s lone MP from Tamil Nadu.

Radhakrishnan’s vote share, however, improved from 33.24 per cent in 2009 to 37.64 per cent in 2014. Earlier in 1999, Radhakrishnan was an MP from Nagercoil and was defeated in the 2004 polls by CPM’s AV Bellarmin.

The current population of the constituency is over 18.7 lakh with mostly urban population. Apart from almost 50 per cent of Hindus, Kanyakumari also has a sizeable proportion of Christians (40-45 per cent). A lot was done to mobilize the Hindu population in favour of Radhakrishnan, who is currently serving as Minister of State in the Union Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Shipping.

The BJP, in 2013, had initiated ‘July Porattam’ or July agitation demanding scholarships for all the poor Hindu students. It reportedly aimed to radicalise the majority against the minorities, claiming that the minority groups from the economically fair background were availing the scholarships while economically backward students from the majority community were not. On coming to power and despite being part of the Union cabinet, Radhakrishnan has not done anything on the issue yet. Ponnar, as he is locally called, had tweeted about the issue at least 17 times from May 13, 2013, to August 28, 2013.

A chunk of Hindu Nadar from the constituency also form the Ayya Vazhi a sect, which has been a victim of untouchability for a long time. The sect—although Hindu—has a different set of customs and practices, and has been demanding for a separate religion status. It has also demanded to rename the Nagercoli-Trivandrum highway after late reformist Ayya Valikundar. Valikundar had fought against the dictatorship of then Travancore King. Kanyakumari was part of Travancore princely state until the state reorganization that took place in 1956.

The sect has reportedly been in favour of the BJP. But now, they have opposed to the recent takeover of Swamithope ‘pathi’, headquarter of Ayya Vazhi, by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department.

BJP’s 2014 Poll Promises

The coastal area is open for marine trade opportunities and the employment generated from it if explored strategically. During the 2014 campaigning, BJP had promised to establish a commercial port at Colachel to generate employment for the youth here. However, on coming to power, the proposed port was shifted to Enayam as an International Container Transhipment Terminal as part of the Centre’s Sagarmala Project. The fishermen protested as the proposed port could directly impact their livelihood. The BJP posed the protest as the Christian fishermen being against the development in the district. Yet, the protest made the party to shift the port to Kovalam.

Lack of pro-farmer policies, expansion of roads leading to shrinking agricultural lands and breaking water bodies used for agricultural purposes, relaxation on cashew import distressing cashew nut factory workers; and falling price of agricultural produce may play a key role in this election.

Alliance in Kanyakumari Poll Fray

Earlier, all major parties had fought separately in 2014. However, this time DMK-Congress-CPI(M) are in an alliance against the BJP-AIADMK coalition. Radhakrishnan and Vasanthakumar will be contesting again in the 2019 polls representing their respective factions.

Interestingly, DMK was at the fourth position in 2014, but in the 2016 state elections, three of the six Assembly constituencies went to DMK and the other three to the Congress. Except for Nagercoil and Kanyakumari assembly seats, each party have held their respective seats for minimum two to three terms in the Assembly elections. Killiyur had voted for Congress in both the 2014 general elections and 2016 by polls.

Parties’ Calculations

Another important issue that can decide the fate of political parties in Kanyakumari is waiving off offers. Apart from giving Rs 6,000 to people below the poverty line under the Congress’s NYAY scheme,

Vasanthakumar has offered to waive off both education and farm loan in the constituency if voted to power. He has also promised to construct a techno park in the constituency.

Radhakrishnan, on the other hand, has committed to construct cold storages to enable exports, an effort to woo the region's fishermen.

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| Edited by: Anu Parthiban
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