At least five Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu seem to have caught the attention of everyone, including the two main alliances — the AIADMK and BJP-led NDA and the DMK and Congress-led opposition.
While the battle in these constituencies — Tirupur, Tiruvallur, Coimbatore, Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri — is seen as tilted in favour of AIADMK, even the ruling party is not taking things lying down by underestimating the effect of a split in traditional AIADMK votes due to the presence of T T V Dhinakaran’s party, AMMK, in the fray.
The DMK-led alliance is expecting to win at least 35 of Tamil Nadu’s 39 seats, largely due to the expected split in AIADMK votes. It seems to be in a spot in these five constituencies also for the same reason — that the former AIADMK leader’s party has not put up strong candidates there.
Of the five, allies PMK and BJP are contesting from Dharmapuri and Coimbatore, respectively, and the AIADMK the remaining three.
The significance of TTV’s party
These five seats, where the DMK-led Opposition alliance is facing a tough battle, is, in a nutshell, the tale of the significance of T T V Dhinakaran’s party — AMMK — in these Lok Sabha polls. Barring Dharmapuri, AMMK has weak candidates in the other four seats — three of them in western Tamil Nadu, and Tiruvallur in northern part of the state - thus giving a breather to ruling AIADMK. Out of the state’s 5.99 crore voters, with an average 75-per cent polling, leadership of both Dravidian majors expect AMMK to get 10-15 per cent votes (or anywhere between 50 lakh and 75 lakh votes). The party is, thus, expected to play the ‘spoiler’ for AIADMK in many seats, mainly in southern TN and the delta region. The AMMK is also likely to play an equally important role in and even after bypolls to the 22 Assembly seats.
In the Opposition camp, the Congress is contesting Krishnagiri and Tiruvallur, the CPI and CPI(M) one each (Tirupur and Coimbatore, respectively), while the DMK candidate is expected to have former Union minister and NDA ally PMK’s Anbumani Ramadoss as his biggest rival in Dharmapuri.
In Dharmapuri, in northern Tamil Nadu, while AMMK’s P Palaniappan is expected to cut into some traditional AIADMK votes, the Ramadoss camp hopes he will still retain the seat since Palaniappan is unlikely to poll more than 20 per cent votes.
A state minister and senior AIADMK leader said that between Tirupur and Coimbatore, the NDA has a better chance of winning the former. “At nearly 10 lakh, Tirupur has more people from the Gounder community (traditionally AIADMK supporters). Besides the Rs 1,532-crore Athikadavu-Avinashi groundwater recharge and potable water scheme there will be an advantage for us. A large section of people (in Tirupur) believe their government rules the state,” the minister said, referring to the fact that Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami comes from the Gounder community.
Limited influence of the AMMK also reduces AIADMK’s risks in Tirupur, known as a knitwear export hub.
The CPI has put up K Subbarayan here, and a local party leader alleged that AIADMK has put in a lot of money in the constituency, which is affecting its chances. The CPI leader alleged that the AIADMK machinery in the entire Coimbatore-Tirupur belt has been moved to Tirupur since Coimbatore has a BJP candidate.
According to the Election Commission, maximum cash seized in the state has been in Tirupur.
Tiruvallur has a factor common with Tirupur — a much weaker presence of AMMK. Besides little chance of any major split in votes, the AIADMK candidate, sitting MP P Venugopal, also enjoys a good image. Tiruvallur was among the three seats where the Congress faced criticism during seat-sharing talks, and the party’s candidate, K Jayakumar, is not only an “outsider” but also wields little hold on local party workers.
In Coimbatore, a senior BJP leader said they are facing a tough battle with CPI(M)’s P R Natarajan, who is representing the DMK-Congress-Left alliance, even though CPI(M) workers said it will not be easy for the party. They pointed towards multiple reasons for their apprehensions, including a fear of DMK supporters not voting for the CPI(M) poll symbol, the influence of AIADMK minister S P Velumani, who is from Thondamuthur in Coimbatore, and the presence of a sizeable North Indian population in the constituency.
CPI(M) leaders said they have engaged Hindi-speaking campaigners and announcers in recent days to spread the word about their candidate and the party symbol, besides reminding voters in all villages that they have the support of the “Rising Sun” — the DMK’s poll symbol.
While a senior CPI(M) leader said Velumani’s money and muscle power, alongside the traditional Hindu, North Indian voters are a threat for Natarajan, BJP workers fear that minority votes and a strong anti-incumbency factor over post-demonetisation job losses may play against them.