The Lede
www.thelede.co.in
Pollachi: It’s A Hot Chase For The Kongunadu Hot-Bed
2019 Polls

Pollachi: It’s A Hot Chase For The Kongunadu Hot-Bed

Sudhakar Balasundaram

Sudhakar Balasundaram

In a prestige constituency for the AIADMK, rival DMK puts up a no-holds-barred fight

Pollachi is witnessing one of the toughest direct battles between the ruling AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) to stake claim over the powerful Gounder community votes in the Kongu region.

The AIADMK is quite confident of doing a hat-trick in Pollachi after two consecutive wins in the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha polls. But the DMK is sweating it out in the sweltering heat by pulling out its entire armoury.

The Pollachi parliamentary constituency has been seen by political observers as one of the most winnable seats for the AIADMK. The AIADMK has won seven times in this constituency.

“Win Pollachi and you win the state” goes a saying among old-timers here. The AIADMK has fielded incumbent MP C Mahendran, a Gounder.

C Mahendran, AIADMK candidate is riding on the popularity of local ministers
C Mahendran, AIADMK candidate is riding on the popularity of local ministers

He is said to have won the seat last term, riding on the popularity of Deputy Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Assembly Pollachi Jayaraman and Rural Development minister SP Velumani who are well known and credited with implementing a number of welfare schemes and measures in the area.

Mahendran however, has gained grounds during his term as an MP and has tried to implement some innovative redressal mechanisms. One of which is forming a WhatsApp group called “MP Pollachi” in the constituency with locals who would post issues which he would then look into and resolve. When queried about why the group says “Only admins can send messages”, Mahendran’s PA Prakash told The Lede that with the announcement of poll dates, there were too many messages in the group demanding improvements in the constituency and therefore until elections were over, the group had been changed to a one-way communication mode. He added – “Once elections are over, we will restore the group and people can contact us again for problems that need to be resolved.”

Mahendran’s WhatsApp group which people use to reach out to the MP
Mahendran’s WhatsApp group which people use to reach out to the MP

These measures are said to have taken Mahendran closer to the people of his constituency, according to observers.

The DMK’s Pollachi candidate is Shanmugasundaram, who has contested twice here and lost.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, industrialist ‘Best’ Ramasamy – president of the Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam – had split votes in large measure and he is with the AIADMK combine this time.

DMK candidate Shanmugasundaram has lost twice in Pollachi before
DMK candidate Shanmugasundaram has lost twice in Pollachi before

In 2014, the General Secretary of the Kongunadu Makkal Desia Katchi ER Easwaran had pushed the DMK to third place, serving up the second place for himself with over 2.76 lakh votes.

The DMK’s Pongalur N Palanisamy was the second runner up in Pollachi in 2009 with over 2.5 lakh votes. Mahendran won by securing over 4.1 lakh votes.

Now Easwaran is part of the DMK combine. Arithmetically, combining the first and second runner up votes should see the DMK combine go past the line first. But observers say things may not be that simple on the ground.

“The decision taken by Stalin is a good one, as far as his party is concerned,” said political analyst and Coimbatore-based advocate Kalaiyarasan. “He has attempted to consolidate the Gounder votes. Easwaran will definitely help the combine. Anti-incumbency will help the DMK combine and Arunthathiyar votes are likely to go to the DMK as well,” he said. Arunthathiyars are a sub-caste of Dalits in the state.

AIADMK Has The Upper Hand

There are three senior leaders of the AIADMK who are working with Mahendran – ministers Udumalai Radhakrishnan and SP Velumani as well as Deputy Speaker Pollachi Jayaraman. SP Velumani, particularly, is keen that Mahendran should win, since Pollachi falls within the Coimbatore district, his stronghold.

“Mahendran will win with a margin of 3 lakh votes,” say both Velumani and Jayaraman in their campaigns.

These claims have frustrated the DMK combine, which experts say, has not been working cohesively on the ground. The DMK’s desperation for a victory in the Kongu hotbed is evident from party’s leader MK Stalin’s campaign here.

Stalin had stopped at three different points in Thondamuthur to deliver scathing speeches against AIADMK minister SP Velumani.

Thondamuthur is possibly one of the DMK’s weakest spots. This Assembly segment, which falls within the Pollachi Lok Sabha constituency, is the stronghold of Velumani. But Stalin persevered.

He attacked Velumani on corruption charges. “Velumani tops the list of corrupt leaders in the state,” said Stalin during his campaign on April 04. “We have collected enough evidence against him and we can prove his involvement in corruption. We will not submit the evidence to the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption now. After we come to power, DVAC will arrest Velumani. Our first task will be to send Velumani to jail,” he thundered.

The attack was so vehement that not only were cases of provocative speech registered against him, but Velumani also went on the offensive against Stalin.

On April 05, Velumani, in his campaign speeches, slammed Stalin saying – “MK Stalin has spoken in a derogatory manner not befitting that of a leader. He has come deliberately to my constituency, near my house and called me all sorts of names, including KD (Known Delinquent, a term used in Tamil to mean a trickster or fraudster),” he said.

In the meanwhile, the AIADMK has also got a sudden boost in the form of a prodigal minister returning to the party’s fold.

In Kinathukidavu Assembly segment within Pollachi seat, former AIADMK minister Damodaran, who had jumped ship to TTV Dhinakaran’s faction, has now re-entered the AIADMK fold. Damodaran is likely to help add votes for AIADMK in Pollachi and Kinathukidavu.

The DMK In Turmoil

Just ahead of the announcement of election dates, six senior DMK leaders were put in charge of each Assembly segment that make up the Pollachi LS seat.

In the past elections, observers say that DMK seniors had a behind-the-scenes understanding with AIADMK ministers. This is said to be one of the main reasons for the DMK becoming weak in the Kongu region.

DMK insiders say that the persons “in-charge” have been appointed mainly to ensure that their own party workers do not help the AIADMK in an underhanded manner.

Now the appointments of these “in-charges” have caused a controversy within the party. Local DMK insiders are said to have asked – “How can someone who is not connected with this constituency be appointed as “in-charge”? How can they come to my constituency?”

And as these voices began to be heard, Suba Chandrashekhar who was appointed initially as the Pollachi constituency “in-charge” was replaced by Poochi Murugan.

The AIADMK, observers say, has also begun to play games with disgruntled DMK leaders who did not get a ticket.

Many of these aspirant candidates in the DMK are in fact showing more of an interest in working against the DMK on the ground, political observers pointed out.

“But this happens during every elections,” said political analyst Kalaiyarasan. “Some leaders are likely to take money from the rival and campaign against their own party quietly but I do not think that the grassroots workers will be affected.”

The DMK, however, has taken the Pollachi sexual abuse case as its weapon this election, although its impact on the ruling party is not likely to be heavy.

“He (Stalin) has been talking all over the state about the Pollachi sexual abuse case,” Pollachi Jayaraman told The Lede. “He imagines things and talks about things that never happened. He does not have anything else to criticise us about. Once the elections are over the truth will become clear,” he said.

Students who had protested against the Pollachi sexual abuse case are all first time voters. The DMK feels that these votes will favour them. But the AIADMK is confident of holding on to what it feels is its territory.

“Eppodhum Pollachi Ah. Thi. Mu. Ka.-vin kottai,” said Jayaraman with confidence. Pollachi is always a fortress of the AIADMK.