Campaign Reaches Fever Pitch in Revenue-Rich Kongu Nadu as DMK-Congress, AIADMK-BJP Battle it Out
On the ground, it does not look so easy for the AIADMK as the DMK is also putting up a good fight.
Tamil Nadu CM Edappadi Palaniswamy is from Salem in the Kongu Nadu region and a defeat for the NDA here would be a huge loss of face for him.
Coimbatore/Salem (Tamil Nadu): The vast region abutting Karnataka’s mountainous southern border is called Kongu Nadu in Tamil. The Kongu Nadu region starts near Bengaluru in the east and ends at Palakkad on Kerala border in the west.
There are eight parliamentary seats in Kongu Nadu spread over 450 kilometres. The highly industrialised region has been one of the growth engines of Tamil Nadu, also playing an important role in the state’s political and social life. Dravida icon EV Ramasamy Naicker or ‘Periyar’ is also from Erode in Kongu Nadu.
Kongu Nadu contributes about 40% of the state’s total revenues and each district is known for at least one unique product. Coimbatore is known for textiles, engineering products and MSMEs. Erode and Tirupur are known for hosieries, Karur is known for automobiles body building, Pollachi is known for poultry, Nilgiris for tea and coffee and Salem is known for steel, textiles and agro products.
This fertile region is witnessing an intense battle this election season. The AIADMK-BJP alliance is locked in a big battle with the alliance between MK Stalin-led DMK and the Congress.
Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy is also from Salem in the same region and a defeat for the NDA in Kongu Nadu would be a huge loss of face for him.
The local caste composition is in favour of the AIADMK, but the current trends are not encouraging for the NDA. Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu’s second largest city and a huge industrial hub, is the capital of Kondu Nadu. It is witnessing a high-decibel campaign as UPA’s CR Natarajan from CPI(M) takes on NDA’s CP Radhakrishnan from the BJP.
The BJP, which has always been a fringe force in the Dravida heartland, opened its account for the first time in 1998. The same CP Radhakrishnan won the saffron party’s first seat from Coimbatore in that election. He returned to power again in 1999. The BJP is hoping that Radhakrishnan has a chance after 15 years and has launched a blistering campaign against the UPA.
His opponent, Natarajan, also a former MP is banking on DMK cadre and local working class to enter Parliament.
“Upper class and caste may back the BJP. But lower class and caste are with the CPM. It is a commercial city. The traders are unhappy with demonetisation and GST. It is a major micro, small and medium scale industries hub. They are also upset. The poor and working class are with CPM. As of now, it is a 50:50 election. Difficult to say anything now,” said political observer Rajath Kumar.
The radical Hindu Mannani and Hindu Makkal Katchi also have some presence in Coimbatore. While Hindu Munnani is linked to the RSS, the Hindu Makkal Katchi remains independent of the RSS, claim local political analysts.
In EPS stronghold Salem, the DMK has fielded SR Parthiban, a DMDK defector against KRS Saravanan of the AIADMK. EPS himself is wooing voters for his candidate, fully knowing that a defeat for the AIADMK in Salem would work against him later in Chennai.
On the ground, it does not look so easy for the AIADMK as the DMK is also putting up a good fight. A coconut vendor, Suresh, told News18 that he was going to vote the DMK this time as he sees MK Stalin as a better alternative to EPS and OPS combine. DMK is looking stronger in Salem city and there is an equal fight in rural areas.
“AIADMK–BJP alliance has to win at least two seats – Salem and Coimbatore to stay relevant in state politics. These two are their strong seats. If they lose these two, there can be a clean sweep for the DMK–Congress in rest of Tamil Nadu,” said Velayudhan, a local journalist.
In Erode, known for hosieries and agro products, MDMK candidate Ganeshamurthy, a former MP is contesting on DMK symbol. The AIADMK has fielded G Manimaran against him.
In automobile town Karur, deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha, M Thambidurai of the AIADMK, is taking on Congress leader Jyothimani, who is a known face in the party. Thambidurai is banking more on his personal image than on the AIADMK base.
The UPA has ceded Namakkal seat to Kongu Munnetra Kazhagam (KMK), a local Kondu Nadu party. AKP Cinraj of the KMK is contesting against AIADMK’s DLS Kaliappan. The demand for a separate Kongu Nadu on the lines of Telangana is also being heard at some places, though it is still feeble. The KMK is trying to exploit such sentiments to enter Parliament. Its followers are mainly the Gounder caste and in 2009 Lok Sabha elections, it polled about six lakh votes.
In Tirupur, the CPI’s Subbarayan is taking on AIADMK’s MSM Anandan. In this textile town, some trade unions are still active and with DMK support the CPI wants to win one seat from Tamil Nadu.
In Pollachi, AIADMK’s Mahendran is facing DMK’s Shanmughasundaran in a fierce electoral battle.
In the blue mountains of Nilgiris, former telecom minister A Raja of the DMK seems to have already established a big lead over AIADMK candidate Thiyagarajan. Even his critics agree that his win is a foregone conclusion this election.
The Kongu Nadu politics has been dominated by Gounders and Naicker castes. During MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa’s regime, these castes mostly voted for the AIADMK. After the death of Jayalalithaa, the AIADMK is finding it difficult to retain them in the party.
Kondu Nadu also has a large number SCs, STs, Thevars, Muslims and Christian population, making it a diverse region. Naidus, who migrated from current day Andhra Pradesh centuries ago, also run several big industries and businesses in the region.
In addition, the Dinakaran factor is playing a role in the region. TTV Dinakaran, popularly known as TTV, is the nephew Sasikala Natarajan, the jailed AIADMK leader and the close aide of Jayalalithaa. His party AMMK is expected to damage the EPS-OPS camp in some seats.
Film actor Kamal Haasan’s party is also in the fray in all the seats and no one knows whose vote it may eat up at the hustings.
Unlike many other parts of India, only local issues are dominating the poll scene in Tamil Nadu. Several ‘ModiGoBack’ agitations have taken place in Tamil Nadu in the past one year and many AIADMK workers are also unhappy with EPS-OPS over joining hands with the BJP. There is also a lot of opposition to NET examination and anti-Hindi imposition sentiments are still visible.
People are opposing Chennai-Hosur eight-lane green expressway for the fear of losing fertile agricultural land. Even adequate drinking water supply is one of the issues in the current elections.
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