After years of political oblivion in Tamil Nadu, the Congress could be looking at gains come voting day on Monday. The other national party with high stakes in this battle, the BJP, however, may be staring at another washout.
The Congress, which is fighting 41 seats as part of the DMK-led alliance, is confident of winning at least 20 seats, and recapturing its traditional strongholds of Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari districts. This belt was once controlled by the Kamaraj faction of the Congress, with a sizeable hold among the Nadar community.
In the 2011 polls, the Congress had won five seats.
Anticipating that it wouldn’t perform as well as expected, the BJP has started talking in terms of only showing its “strength”. The party, which had contested 204 seats in 2011 and not won a single one, failed to strike an alliance with the PMK and other parties that had been NDA allies during the Lok Sabha elections this time.
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The failure to open an account again would be a setback for BJP president Amit Shah, who has been personally looking after the BJP campaign in south India and held several meetings with OBC and Dalit groups.
Party leaders confessed that they expected hardly 10,000 votes for its two high-profile candidates Tamilisai Soundararajan (the BJP state chief contesting from Virugambakkam in Chennai city) and H Raja (the outspoken national secretary contesting from T Nagar in Chennai).
The BJP’s biggest hope is Vanathi Srinivasan, the candidate from Coimbatore South, who has experimented with Modi-model strategies such as ‘Coffee with Vanathi’ and ‘Ask Vanathi’.
“This would be an election that will show us our strengths, weaknesses and potential in the South,” a senior leader said.
A senior party leader looking after northern Tamil Nadu said they were focusing on around 10 constituencies out of 234 to garner at least 15 per cent votes each. Another leader said they expected to get 2-3 per cent of the total votes.
Regional leaders and prominent faces have been leaving the BJP to join the AIADMK, including S Gurumurthy (from Nilgiris) and Apsara Reddy. A transgender and media professional, Reddy had been made a member recently by national general secretary Muralidhar Rao. “I believe in equality of all genders and dignity for all genders. I felt I was a photo op for them (the BJP) on Women’s Day,” her Facebook post explaining why she resigned from the BJP said.
The constituencies where the Congress’ chances are brightest include Sivakasi and Karaikudi. Sreeram Chokkar, the Sivakasi candidate, is the son of former Congress MLA R Chokkar, who had later defected to G K Mooppanar’s Tamil Manila Congress (TMC). K R Ramasamy, the nominee from Karaikudi, is a five-time MLA from Thiruvadanai. The only time Ramasamy lost was in 2011, when he was knocked out amidst the massive AIADMK sweep after the 2G scam.
In Sriperumbudur, former VCK MLA Selva Perunthakai is considered a strong candidate for the party. A former tea boy with RBI, Perunthakai’s candidature had triggered a controversy due to allegations of sympathies with the LTTE as a VCK leader.