Kanyakumari: The St Francis Assisi Church in Kanyakumari’s Nagercoil asked an AIADMK campaign team to leave its premises last month, saying no one planned to vote for their candidate because of the party’s alliance with the BJP, and the latter’s activities in “north India”. In a Melur mosque in the district, an angry Muslim crowd reportedly told AIADMK candidate P. Periyapullan to leave the premises.
The AIADMK’s alliance with the BJP in the Tamil Nadu elections may be the most talked-about in the southern state. But this is coming at a price for the ruling party.
On Tuesday, Kanyakumari will vote for two separate elections — Lok Sabha bypoll for the seat vacated after the death of former Congress MP H. Vasanthakumar, and six assembly segments Colachel, Vilavancode, Killiyoor, Padmanabhapuram, Nagercoil and Kanyakumari.
While the BJP is fighting the parliamentary polls, both the allies are fighting the assembly seats — three BJP and two AIADMK. Another alliance partner, Tamil Maanila Congress is contesting the sixth seat in Vilavancode.
The polls should have been the perfect opportunity to showcase the synergy between the two alliance partners. But even as party workers noted their duty to canvass for one other, the reality on the ground seemed somewhat different.
On Saturday, a rally for BJP candidate Pon Radhakrishnan — for the Lok Sabha seat — appeared to eclipse that of AIADMK’s Thalavai Soundaram for the assembly segment in Nagercoil.
The BJP workers waved saffron flags on their bikes and chanted ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ during the rally even as a loudspeaker blared: “Vote for Pon Radhakrishnan, he has Modi’s support.”
Concurrently, a small AIADMK van with just three party workers tried to catch up with the bike-riders seeking votes in the name of Soundaram’s name — but appeared to fail.
Vineeth, an AIADMK worker, said the BJP often planned meetings and events without keeping the party in the loop.
A BJP worker, Chockingham, on his part, said, “We are only seeking votes in Modi’s name. We are not speaking of Amma at all.”
The alliance that is not working
There are teething troubles between the unlikely alliance partners in this constituency, including on electoral issues and even coordination.
Several AIADMK leaders, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the alliance with the BJP presented a bleak picture for the party in Kanyakumari as over half the voters were from minority communities.
According to Census 2011, Christians in Kanyakumari account for 46.85 per cent of the voters. Combined with the Muslim populace, they add up to over half. Hindus comprise 48.85 per cent of the electorate.
Radhakrishnan had lost the 2019 election by over 2.59 lakh votes amid the consolidation of Christian votes for Vasanthakumar. This happened even as he spoke about how he executed work including flyovers on the Nagercoil-Thiruvananthapuram highway, among others.
The Kanyakumari town itself has a dominant Christian population (61.16 per cent). The town has elected several Christian MPs to power over the years, including DMK’s J. Helen Davidson in 2009 and AIADMK’s John Thangam in 2014.
In the Nagercoil segment, three MLAs from the Christian community were elected to power seven times between 1971 and 2016. The AIADMK has won from here thrice.
Vareethiah Konstantine, a professor at St. Judes College in Thoothoor in Kanyakumari, said the constituency “votes very differently from the rest of Tamil Nadu”, due to the history of Hindu-Christian Mandaikadu riots in 1982.
“The alliance of the AIADMK and BJP has definitely cast an added hit on the AIADMK. And the opposition has an advantage due to this,” he said.
For most people in Kanyakumari, issues such as livelihood and habitat matter the most. But this election was engulfed in a sense of fear as the BJP has brought “non-issues” like religion to the fore, he said.
“People are scared and worried that what is happening in north India should not take place in Tamil Nadu,” he said.
However, M. Vincent, a senior AIADMK leader and former MLA from Nagercoil, told ThePrint that his party did not focus on caste, creed or religion. “AIADMK’s politics is crystal clear. We see no separation of religious communities. MGR was the noblest embodiment of unity and integrity,” he said.
Without naming anyone, however, he said some politicians were doing “false propaganda in the name of religion”, which he said has upset a section of voters.
Coordination issues too
A senior AIADMK leader from Nagercoil said various pastors were telling people not to vote for the BJP-AIADMK alliance.
“Voters themselves were upset with us as Amma had very strongly said she would not ally with the BJP and now that is going against us. Both Christian and Muslims used to vote for the AIADMK, but that may change this election,” he said.
Another party worker said many times he was asked to leave from churches as he tried to canvas for the alliance.
A third worker predicted that Congress would win the Lok Sabha bypoll in Kanyakumari, while DMK would win the assembly seat from the town. “But BJP will win Nagercoil.”
Uma Rajan, a BJP leader from Nagercoil, said the AIADMK did not come forward to seek votes for the BJP in the initial stages of campaigning, but stepped up towards the latter stages. “We are trying to go to Christian voters and were hoping that the AIADMK votes would transfer. But that does not seem to be happening,” said Rajan.
“They (AIADMK) are not campaigning in the same way they would if their own candidate was standing,” said another BJP leader, who did not wish to be named.
But in defence of the alliance, Krishnakumar, the division secretary of the NDA office in Nagercoil, said all meetings took place jointly and both parties went together for their door-to-door campaigning. He said the win for Radhakrishnan was the “first priority”.
What community leaders say
George Punnaya, parish priest and in-charge of a college in the Diocese of the Holy Redeemer Church in Kanyakumari, said this was an important election for Tamil Nadu because there was a threat to the state’s social fabric.
“We don’t want religious or communal fights (like) in other parts of India. Tamil Nadu is a developing state in India. The Christian community fears as we hear the news of how a Jesuit priest — Stan Swamy is behind bars and how nuns were evicted from a train,” he said.
Punnaya praised Radhakrishnan, saying people like him and that he is a good, well-educated candidate who reached out to people across communities. He, however, noted that Radhakrishnan’s party name worked against him.
Local fishermen had earlier said they were against the BJP due to its support to the Sagarmala port, which will “destroy their fishing areas”.