There’s more than one claimant to the ruling party’s traditional bastion of 57 Assembly seats in eight revenue districts.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is making all-out efforts to demolish the hold of its principal adversary, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), over the western region of Tamil Nadu, a traditional bastion of the latter.
The DMK, which has been out of power for the last 10 years, has devised its strategy for the region, spreading over 57 Assembly seats in eight revenue districts. It is conscious of the fact that this belt made a huge difference to the fortunes of the AIADMK five years ago, yielding 45 seats and accounting for one-third of the ruling party’s overall tally of 137 seats.
Old timers in the DMK still recall how former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, after returning to power in 2006, did not take his long-standing Coimbatore colleague, Pongalur N. Palaniswamy, into the Cabinet initially as he held the latter responsible for a virtual washout of his party then in the district. Perhaps keeping all these factors in mind, DMK leader M.K. Stalin made it clear at the beginning of the election campaign that his party would give a robust performance to prove that the western region was no longer an AIADMK stronghold.
Also called the Kongu region, the western districts are Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri, Salem, Namakkal, Erode, Tiruppur, Coimbatore and the Nilgiris. There is a balanced mix of communities such as Kongu Vellala Gounders, Naidus and Vanniyars, apart from Arunthathiyars, who are regarded as the most backward among Scheduled Castes. In addition, the region has a sizeable number denotified communities. Compared to the southern region of the State, the west has more number of urban and semi-urban areas.
Major chunk of AIADMK heavyweights
Another reason behind the DMK targeting the region is that a large number of the ruling party’s heavyweights are from here. Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, his trusted lieutenants and high profile Ministers S.P. Velumani and P. Thangamani, AIADMK’s deputy coordinator K.P. Munusamy, School Education Minister K.A. Sengottaiyan, Assembly Speaker P. Dhanapal, and Deputy Speaker Pollachi V. Jayaraman hail from the zone. If all these leaders can be made to bite the dust, the DMK hopes to convert the western belt into its pocket borough. In this task, it is being supported by allies such as the Congress, the Left and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), which have pockets of influence in the region.
Among the issues being pursued by the Opposition to embarrass the ruling party are the move to acquire farm lands for an eight-lane Salem-Chennai highway and the alleged involvement of functionaries of the ruling party in the Pollachi sexual abuse case. What is of comfort to the DMK and its allies is their performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, where the Opposition bagged all the nine Parliamentary constituencies in the region, and had a lead over the AIADMK and its allies in 56 out of 57 Assembly segments.
Knowing that its stakes in the region are quite high, the AIADMK too is leaving no stone unturned by channelising its energy and resources. It has renominated all its seven Ministers, apart from the Chief Minister, who belong to this belt. It is banking on the performance of the State government in the last five years and it believes that the implementation of a number of infrastructure projects such as the Avinashi-Athikadavu ground water recharge and drinking water supply scheme, a long-standing demand of people in the region, and the concrete lining of the Lower Bhavani Project Canal will yield immense political benefits to the party.
The AIADMK is pinning hopes on netting the maximum number of seats in the districts of Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri and Salem, totalling 21 Assembly constituencies, riding on its government’s last minute important policy decision of providing 10.5% reservation for the Vanniyars within the 20% quota for Most Backward Classes and De-notified Communities. The ruling party can stand to gain, in the west, the benefit of its alliance with its major allies — the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Prime Minister’s visit
The national party, too, has attached its importance to the western belt by fielding its State unit president L. Murugan in Dharapuram and national chief of the women’s wing Vanathi Srinivasan in Coimbatore (South). This explains the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Dharapuram a few days ago. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh also campaigned in the region on Wednesday.
Makkal Needhi Maiam, a three-year-old party headed by veteran actor Kamal Haasan, is paying special attention to the region as well. The party chief himself has chosen to contest in Coimbatore (South) in his maiden election to the Assembly. In the electoral fray, there is one more player — Naam Tamilar Katchi led by film actor-director Seeman — which is wooing the public on issues surrounding Tamil nationalism.
(With inputs from Karthik Madhavan in Coimbatore, R. Akileish in Tiruppur, S.P. Saravanan in Erode, Vignesh Vijayaumar in Salem, P.V. Srividya in Dharmapuri and Rohan D. Premkumar in Udhagamandalam)