Subscription Subscription
Home > Mumbai > Mumbai News > Article > Has BJP let a sure shot seat slip in Tamil Nadu

Has BJP let a sure-shot seat slip in Tamil Nadu?

Updated on: 16 April,2024 05:13 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Krishna Kumar Padmanabhan |

Saffron party, which looked set for a win, seems to have suffered setback over a schoolboy error in Kanyakumari

Has BJP let a sure-shot seat slip in Tamil Nadu?

Pon Radhakrishnan canvassing in the coastal fishing villages of Kanyakumari, a pocket that has proven to be tough nut to crack for the BJP. Pic/BJP

Nellai namathu ellai, Kumari namathu thollai,” said the consummate wordsmith, the late TN CM K Karunanidhi. Loosely, it meant Tirunelveli, the second southernmost district in the Indian subcontinent, is the DMK’s limit; Kanyakumari, the southern tip, is a menace for the party. The playful jibe is understandable, as the Nagercoil-Kanyakumari belt has proven a tough nut to crack for the Dravidian parties. This is largely down to the popularity of the two national parties, and for a few brief years, even the Communists, which in turn is down to the nationalist fervour that the people here exhibit.

Pon Radhakrishnan canvassing in the coastal fishing villages of Kanyakumari
Pon Radhakrishnan canvassing in the coastal fishing villages of Kanyakumari

“The place has always been strongly nationalist, from the time the Tamil-speaking people strove to join Tamil Nadu from Kerala when linguistic boundaries were being drawn,” said Pon Radhakrishnan, the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate here. “The region has voted for MPs like A Nesamony, who spearheaded that agitation and K Kamaraj, one of the Congress’s tallest leaders.” Radhakrishnan could add himself to the list of strong nationalist leaders who have represented the region in Parliament.

BJP’s great hope

After losing out against the Congress’s businessman-politician Vasanth Kumar in 2019, when the DMK-Congress alliance swept the Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu, Radhakrishnan, 72, is again in the fray. This time, too, he is the BJP’s great hope in TN. While it may yet win a few other seats, this seat was supposed to have been locked and loaded. Which in itself is a great achievement, considering the demographic of the region–50 per cent Hindus, and 46 per cent Christians. And even inside this, there is another sub-community of fisherfolk, who account for a fifth of the total voters, numbering anywhere between 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh.

Tricky arithmetic

“Ponnar [as Radhakrishnan is usually addressed around here] has won twice, and on both occasions, it has been due to a splintering of the Christian votes,” said N Swaminathan, a popular YouTuber in the region. “In 2014, especially, he benefitted because all major parties fought alone. Among them, the DMK, AMK, and CPM fielded Christian candidates, splitting the community votes, and leaving Radhakrishnan in the clear,” he said.

A pocket that has proven to be a tough nut to crack for the BJP. Pics/BJP
A pocket that has proven to be a tough nut to crack for the BJP. Pics/BJP

ADMK the wildcard

This time, too, Radhakrishnan was banking on something similar happening. For starters, the fishing community was upset with the Congress for not giving it any representation in its ranks. Second, the ADMK fielded a Christian candidate from the community, Nazareth Basilian. He had generated good early buzz and was expected to secure a majority of the around 2 lakh fishing community votes. Third, the BJP, for its part had been cultivating Christian support, coveting those who had beef with the Church, and assorted neighbourhood troublemakers. And suddenly, in a pocket where it never won anything, it currently looked good for 10,000-odd votes.

Butterfly effect

All looked good for a BJP win, albeit one that will have to be hard-fought and might have been very narrow. Then, in February, three-time local Congress MLA Vijayadharani resigned and joined the BJP. Her grouse was said to be that the party had ignored her for floor leader in the Assembly, and again as Lok Sabha candidate in 2019 and a third time when it did not make her contest by the by-poll caused by the then MP Vasanth Kumar’s death. The Congress party started making the right noises, and said it would move for her disqualification for jumping ship. To avoid this, Vijayadharani resigned from her post as MLA, necessitating a by-election for her Vilavancode constituency. “In all this, remember, she was not bringing anything special to the table in the BJP,” said an insider.

Pon Radhakrishnan, BJP candidate
Pon Radhakrishnan, BJP candidate

Congress masterstroke

In a rare moment when it has outsmarted the BJP in recent years in the political arena, the Congress said it will field a candidate from the fishing community for the by-poll, which will also happen on April 19. In one swoop, the party had managed to please the community, and made them wonder what purpose voting for ADMK will serve now. “It was a very basic error on behalf of the BJP,” said Swaminathan. “They could have told her to wait till the elections were over. But they did not anticipate that the Congress would field a candidate from the fishing community for the by-poll. In opening a door for a disgruntled MLA who had not much to offer, they effectively slammed another door on themselves.”

ADMK off chessboard

Rumours suggest that the fishing community elders have told Basilian to go easy on the campaigning and not allow the fishing community vote to split, which will help the BJP. Lending credence to these whispers, he has been campaigning in Hindu areas the past few days, areas which are most likely to vote for the BJP.

Vijay Vasanth vs Pon Radhakrishnan
Vijay Vasanth vs Pon Radhakrishnan

Uphill task for BJP

“Basilian is a good man, so is Ponnar,” said Father Peter Benedict, of the Malankara Syrian Catholic Church. “But we have to vote for a party that will uphold the Constitution. We are not telling them which party to vote for, but I guess people get the message. We have nothing against Ponnar. He has done so much for the constituency. On the other hand, the Congress has wasted so many years of opportunity to do good work. But our community has to do the right thing when it comes to upholding the Constitution and its values.”

Back at the BJP office, the mood is still upbeat, considering that Modi is coming again to campaign in Ambasamudram, Tirunelveli, for its southern candidates. But scratch the surface, and a senior party functionary admits. “Till yesterday, we were confident. But tomorrow, who knows? That is the thing with religion. You can never say.”

"Exciting news! Mid-day is now on WhatsApp Channels Subscribe today by clicking the link and stay updated with the latest news!" Click here!

Register for FREE
to continue reading !

This is not a paywall.
However, your registration helps us understand your preferences better and enables us to provide insightful and credible journalism for all our readers.

Mid-Day Web Stories

Mid-Day Web Stories

This website uses cookie or similar technologies, to enhance your browsing experience and provide personalised recommendations. By continuing to use our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy. OK