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Saturday, April 17, 2021

In this Tamil Nadu bypoll, his father’s son vs his party’s veteran

Amidst the big AIADMK-DMK battle in Tamil Nadu, this Lok Sabha bypoll in the southern tip of the state is all about the Congress vs the BJP, and a son fighting for his father’s legacy vs a veteran.

Written by Manoj C G | Nagercoil |
Updated: March 27, 2021 9:41:29 am
BJP’s Pon Radhakrishnan, Congress’s Vijay Vasanth come face to face as they file their nomination papers. (Photo: PTI)

Amidst the big AIADMK-DMK battle in Tamil Nadu, this Lok Sabha bypoll in the southern tip of the state is all about the Congress vs the BJP, and a son fighting for his father’s legacy vs a veteran.

With the Congress enjoying some pockets of influence in these parts, among those who have dropped in for campaigning are Rahul Gandhi and ally DMK’s chief M K Stalin. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected in the coming days.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress’s H Vasanthakumar had trounced then Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan of the BJP by over 2.5 lakh votes. Vasanthakumar, who owned the electronics and home appliances chain Vasanth & Co, died of Covid last year. In the fray from the party’s side is his actor-son Vijay Vasanth.

Radhakrishnan, popularly known as Ponnaar, who is contesting again, says that while there was a Christian consolidation against him last time, the community had realised its “folly”. “They (the Congress and DMK) made false promises. Whatever projects I got, they said were against the wishes of people, particularly the port (at Enayam in Kanyakumari)… They promised they will not allow a harbour, four-way road, or railway line doubling due to some misunderstanding with the fishermen community… They said I am going to demolish houses and religious places… spoil the interests of Christian and minorities,” he tells The Indian Express.

However, identity politics and the faultlines between Christians and Hindus — both from the Nadar community, to which Vijay and Radhakrishnan belong — as well as the large fishermen community (whose protests had been backed by the Church) will play a deciding role this time as well.

Realising this, Radhakrishnan adds, “You can ask any Christian, any Muslim… I was a minister for 10 years, MP for 10 years… if anything was done against them during that period.”

Vijay, who has centred his campaign around the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and farm laws, counters that it is the BJP that is polarising voters. “Yes we have a mix of Christian Nadars and Hindu Nadars and Muslim minorities too. But we don’t have any hatred against each other. They are trying to project Christian Nadars and Hindu Nadars as separate,” he says.

Vijay adds that the people of Tamil Nadu are looking for change after 10 years of AIADMK rule, with the hike in prices breaking their back. He says they also appreciate the work his father did during the lockdown. “My father planned a lot of programmes to uplift the people,” he says, adding pointedly, “I don’t want to bring any project which will disturb the people or nature.”

Vijay says the Congress will also gain from the BJP-AIADMK alliance. “The minorities always supported the AIADMK. The hatred (for the BJP) will benefit us.”

Radhakrishnan asks how issues like the CAA and triple talaq are connected to Kanyakumari district. “People understand everything… All happened during the Congress-DMK period, say NEET… There is no mistake from Modi’s government.”

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