Annamalai, Dravidians & caste — 3-cornered Coimbatore fight

Annamalai, Dravidians & caste — 3-cornered Coimbatore fight

Those ThePrint spoke to during Annamalai’s canvassing at Veerapandi felt he is a good man, but were skeptical of just how much he could offer constituents. “We don’t see any formidable leaders in the state. We like Annamalai, but we don’t want his party to be here. We can look up only to our state parties, who know the nook and cranny of the state,” says K. Arumugam, a tender coconut seller near Veerapandi.

BJP workers, who are working with Annamalai, were also skeptical about his aggressive approach to campaigning.

BJP supporters at Annamalai's roadshow in Coimbatore on 13 April, 2024 | ANI
BJP supporters at Annamalai’s roadshow in Coimbatore on 13 April, 2024 | ANI

Ask his Dravidian opponents and they say Annamalai is banking on Hindutva, which may not work in his favour this time since voters in Coimbatore want a ‘peaceful environment’.

“He has been consistently triggering people, but the people of Coimbatore are always soft. They want their businesses to be run peacefully. So, we are confident that people would support us,” Ganapathi P. Rajkumar, the DMK candidate in Coimbatore, tells ThePrint.

Singai G. Ramachandran, the AIADMK candidate from this seat, was also confident of pulling in votes on the ground that western Tamil Nadu has been a stronghold of the party.

With a three-cornered fight in the seat, Coimbatore is one of the key constituencies all three parties — DMK, AIADMK and BJP — are eyeing.

Also Read: Amma’s legacy or Stalin’s schemes? Women voters in Tamil Nadu rate AIADMK, DMK ahead of polls

Coimbatore & communal polarisation

BJP first fielded a candidate in Coimbatore in the 1989 Lok Sabha polls. It has since won the seat twice, in 1998 and 1999. Barring the 2009 general election, it has been able to maintain a vote share of around 30 percent in the Coimbatore seat.

The BJP’s victory in Coimbatore in the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha polls, when it contested in alliance with AIADMK and DMK, respectively, was largely attributed to the communal polarisation that followed the 14 February, 1998, bomb blast which was alleged to be retaliation for the communal riots that erupted in Coimbatore the previous November.

Since the formation of the parliamentary constituency in 1952, barring 1980, 1996 and 2014, voters in Coimbatore have always favoured national parties — the Congress, CPI, CPI(M) and BJP. Though CPI(M)’s P.R. Natrajan won the seat in 2019 on behalf of the DMK-led alliance, the DMK did not want to take a chance and took it upon itself to give the BJP a fight in the seat, where the latter has fielded its state president. 

Of the six assembly segments that fall under the Coimbatore Lok Sabha constituency, one is held by BJP and the rest by AIADMK.

Candidates bank on Caste

DMK, which is attempting to make inroads into western Tamil Nadu, has always been keen on contesting Coimbatore to make its presence felt.

Though DMK ally CPM won the seat in 2019, it was a rout for the DMK in Coimbatore in the 2021 assembly elections. The party managed to bounce back, winning 96 of 100 wards in Coimbatore in the 2022 local body polls. Much credit for this was given to former minister V. Senthil Balaji, who belongs to the Kongu Vellalar community, and helped the DMK consolidate votes from the dominant OBC bloc.

Ganapathi P. Rajkumar, DMK’s candidate, belongs to the same community. His rivals Annamalai and Ramachandran belong to the Gounder and Naidu communities, respectively.

AIADMK's Singai G. Ramachandran on campaign trail in Coimbatore on 17 April, 2024 | X@RamaAIADMK
AIADMK’s Singai G. Ramachandran on campaign trail in Coimbatore on 17 April, 2024 | X@RamaAIADMK

Caste polarisation in the constituency is evident. “We don’t have any opinion on this election. Somebody from our caste might be contesting the election and our parents would tell us before we go to cast our votes. We would vote for them,” one among a group of men in Coimbatore aged between 25-30 tells ThePrint.

Also Read: ‘That’s what Amma would do’: AIADMK gains momentum in Tamil Nadu poll race as EPS trains guns on Modi

Annamalai backed by PM

For BJP and RSS workers in Coimbatore, Prime Minister Narendra Modi throwing his weight behind Annamalai was an unfamiliar sight.

“We have never seen the party giving such an upper hand to any of the previous state leadership. We did our part long ago, but he seems to be breaking all the consolidation and polarisation, which is not our traditional way. We are worried that it may not work. But, who knows? His aggressive approach might be attractive for some, probably first-timers,” says Thiyagu, a BJP worker, who has been associated with the party since 1996.

A few BJP workers also recall how Modi reacted when a senior DMK leader called Annamalai a ‘joker’. 

“We don’t know what kind of relationship he has with the top brass. Even previous BJP presidents were criticised more than this, but none of the central leadership ever reacted. But for this, the PM reacted and it is surprising for all of us,” says another BJP worker who did not wish to be named.

Even before the announcement of the Lok Sabha election schedule, Modi visited the constituency at least twice, apart from holding a roadshow in R.S. Puram, where the bomb blast took place in 1998.

Party workers say they feel it would have been a cakewalk had they been in an alliance with AIADMK. “But, it looks like the party is giving Annamalai all he wants. It was because of him that the alliance was severed. He had been pressing to go all alone and the central leadership also accepted,” says another BJP worker, who works closely with Annamalai.

However, it has to be seen if Annamalai can deliver, not just in his constituency, but in the state’s 23 Lok Sabha seats the BJP is contesting. 

Dravidian rivals’ battle for Manchester of the South

Unlike Annamalai, who held extensive interactions with the press, the DMK and AIADMK candidates spent much of their time on the ground with their cadres.

“You cannot see Ganapathi Rajkumar speaking much. He has countered only when there was a necessity. Coimbatore needs infrastructure development and job opportunities for youngsters. BJP, which diverted a huge investment from Coimbatore to Gujarat cannot speak about it. Even after our chief minister raised it in the public meeting, there has not been any reaction from them, because they know that they have done it,” says A Karthi, a DMK worker from Coimbatore’s Peelamedu region.

Congress’s Rahul Gandhi, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, state Youth and Sports Welfare Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin, DMK MP Kanimozhi and actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan are among those who campaigned for Ganapathi P. Rajkumar.

Udhayanidhi Stalin at rally in support of DMK's Ganapathi P. Rajkumar in Coimbatore on 18 April, 2024 | ANI
Udhayanidhi Stalin at rally in support of DMK’s Ganapathi P. Rajkumar in Coimbatore on 18 April, 2024 | ANI

AIADMK candidate Singai G. Ramachandran, the son of late MLA Singai Govindaraju, meanwhile, is banking on the legacy of his family.He also has the backing of AIADMK leader and former minister S.P. Velumani, who is from the dominant Kongu Vellalar community.

“We strongly believe people would vote for us as we have a proven track record. As our leaders have already pointed out, the fight is only between the DMK and AIADMK. BJP is nowhere in the fight and you would know it on the day of the result,” Ramachandran tells ThePrint.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: Not Hindutva, but OBC PM-led social engineering is giving jitters to Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu


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