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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Kamal Haasan vs star in her own right: a popular Tamil Nadu BJP leader

Haasan, who was initially expected to contest from Alandur in Chennai, eventually went with Coimbatore South — the Assembly segment where the MNM got more than 1 lakh votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Coimbatore |
Updated: April 3, 2021 7:51:17 am
Kamal Haasan vs star in her own right: a popular Tamil Nadu BJP leaderBJP Coimbatore South candidate Vanathi Srinivasan.

One of the few popular BJP leaders in Tamil Nadu, Coimbatore South candidate Vanathi Srinivasan was considered a sure-shot winner. However, the 51-year-old’s pitch has been queered by the entry of Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) leader and actor Kamal Haasan in the race.

Haasan, who was initially expected to contest from Alandur in Chennai, eventually went with Coimbatore South — the Assembly segment where the MNM got more than 1 lakh votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. If Haasan is banking on his star value, Srinavasan, the national president of the BJP Mahila Morcha, is counting on her work in the area. Congress candidate Mayura Jayakumar is a distant third, despite ally DMK.

A constituency with largely middle-class and upper-middle-class families, Coimbatore South has about 12% upper caste Hindu voters of north Indian descent who are seen as BJP supporters. While more than 10% voters belong to minority communities, Srinivasan is an acceptable name because of her moderate image.

Srinivasan says the MNM did well in 2019 as its candidate R Mahendran was a local, and belongs to the influential Chettiar community. “He got more votes where they have a presence. He also did some work locally, organising youth camps, and above all, there was a pro-DMK wave in 2019,” she says, adding, “There is no such wave now. Rather, the BJP image has improved. As a leader familiar to everyone, I have helped ensure central government schemes reach people from all walks of life.”

She also claims that the anger over demonetisation and GST implementation in this city of MSMEs has largely been tackled. Srinivasan says she ensured that every complaint got a hearing and facilitated talks between the industry and Centre.

Srinavasan’s office in Coimbatore city is one of the most vibrant poll offices in the state, spread over two floors. There are crowds outside to meet her, including youths, Sangh Parivar activists, and families seeking selfies. A man in his 80s tells Srinivasan he has come from Salem “just to see her”.

Politics is an unlikely trajectory for Srinivasan, who is married to a businessman and whose family’s only political link was a farmers’ agitation in the early 1970s in which her father got arrested. She explains it was her passion for Tamil poet Subramania Bharati and Swami Vivekananda that drove her. “They instilled nationalism in me. I entered politics through a Vivekananda study circle run by the ABVP in my college days.”

While her two previous poll stints have been failures, from Mylapore Assembly seat in 2011 and Coimbatore South in 2016, she did grab eyeballs for a campaign centred around ‘Coffee With Vanathi’. Plus, this time the BJP has the advantage of being in alliance with the AIADMK.

Last week, confirming apprehension that the AIADMK is now totally under the thumb of the BJP, a group of Srinivasan supporters allegedly demanded that the name of Tamil Nadu be changed to Dakshin Bharath. Srinivasan denies this.

Her struggle as a woman leader hasn’t been easy, and allegations continue that local BJP leaders have been indifferent to her campaign. Srinivasan says, “Women leaders face issues everywhere… But I see it as a mix of good and bad things in a family… I focus on serving the people.”

Besides, her own family is behind her. Her “poll strategists”, she says, are her two teenage sons.

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