Firebrand Annamalai’s duel in Coimbatore is TN head-turner

Annamalai, is seen as a fearless, corruption-free leader by the youth and people who are looking for an alternative for the two Dravidian parties.
Firebrand Annamalai’s duel in Coimbatore is TN head-turner
Illustration: Mandar Pardikar

COIMBATORE: As the summer peaks, the battlefield in Coimbatore Lok Sabha constituency sparkles in an unfamiliar glow. There are two reasons. For one, BJP’s Tamil Nadu state president, K Annamalai, an IPS officer-turned-politician, has entered the poll fray. Second, the DMK took over the constituency from CPM after a gap of a decade and fielded a soft-spoken Ganapathy P Rajkumar, former Mayor of Coimbatore Corporation, with the sole aim of trouncing the BJP with all its might.

The fact that in 2019, CPM’s P R Natarajan romped home with over 1.79 lakh votes may portray the constituency as a hopeless trek for any debutant. But in the 2021 assembly polls, it changed colour from tip to toe in favour of AIADMK in the five segments under this LS constituency. Even the victory of the BJP’s Vanathi Srinivasan from Coimbatore South — the sixth assembly seat — after a three-cornered contest in which she handed Kamal Haasan a drubbing, could be attributed to the alliance with the AIADMK.

The firebrand Annamalai, initially reluctant to enter the Lok Sabha race, fell in line with the party’s decision. Having lost to the DMK in the Aravakurichi assembly seat in 2021 by 24,816 votes, he is leaving no stone unturned by touring every nook and cranny of the constituency amidst his busy schedule of campaigning for candidates of the BJP and its allies across the state. He is seen as a fearless, corruption-free leader by the youth and people who are looking for an alternative for the two Dravidian parties. But will it be enough to cross the line?

Will Balaji’s absence dent DMK prospects?

While the BJP eyes the support of a sizable North Indian population and votes from Hindu outfits, the DMK hopes to lap up minority votes and the support of allies like the CPI and CPM, which hold sway over the working class. On the other hand, the AIADMK enjoys a traditional vote bank. While Singai G Ramachandran, AIADMK’s IT wing president, is banking on party strongman S P Velumani and five MLAs, the DMK will definitely miss the presence of jailed former minister V Senthil Balaji, who played a vital role in the party’s victory in the local body polls in the Kongu belt.

With all three candidates being well educated — Annamalai and Ramachandran are II M graduates while is Rajkumar a PhD holder — voters in Coimbatore, which has a literacy rate of over 90%, expected a graceful poll debate. Unfortunately, what they witnessed was mud-slinging. Soon after the BJP announced Annamalai as its Coimbatore candidate, DMK minister T R B Rajaa said, “Goat biryani is getting ready.” For his part, Annamalai commented that Ramachandran got admission through the MLA quota, evoking a strong rebuttal from the AIADMK candidate, who said his father died when he was 11 years old and sought an apology from the BJP state president.

Annamalai also announced that he would not give even a single rupee for a vote. But he faced a stinging attack from opposition when a flying squad seized Rs 4 crore, belonging to BJP’s Tirunelveli candidate, in Chennai. Annamalai accused the DMK of giving gold earrings and Rs 2,000 cash to voters over 85 years of age who were casting their votes from home. Given that money power played a decisive role in the previous elections, it remains to be seen if it would do an encore this time around.

Pollsters are keenly watching if narrative built by the BJP as an alternative for the Dravidian parties is being lapped up by Tamil voters. In a state where caste equations play a crucial role, one can’t miss the fact that Annamalai and Rajkumar belong to the dominant Goundar community. Though senior AIADMK leaders in the region are Goundars, the party fielded Ramachandran from the Naidu community with an eye to winning over both communities.

If Annamalai fails to put up a decent show, it would become an embarrassment not only for the party but also for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited Coimbatore district thrice for campaigning. It may also take a knock on the party’s master plan for the 2026 assembly polls.

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