It will be a close fight for the fronts led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in the constituencies in western Tamil Nadu, a region that extends from Hosur that borders Karnataka to Coimbatore that neighbours Kerala.
The AIADMK seeks to establish the claim that west zone is its bastion and the DMK wants to prove this perception wrong. The DMK takes the field with a strong alliance whose members represent various sections spread across the region.
It has on board the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) that has its share of the votes among the vanniyars in the Assembly segments in Salem, Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri districts. It also has the Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam (KNMK), which claims to have a substantial vote base among the Gounders in this region. But, it has to reckon with other Gounder groups that have offered support to the AIADMK, resenting the KNMK's alliance with the DMK.
The DMK also has on its side the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, which is expected to win the votes of Dalits who oppose the KNMK, branding it as anti-Dalit. The DMK believes that having both parties on board will bring the votes of both communities.
Former DMK Minister and party strongman in Erode N.K.K. Periasamy says having the KNMK in the alliance will prove beneficial.
The PMK's strengths in the region are well-known. Its president G.K. Mani is contesting from Mettur. But, he disputes the theory that western region is the stronghold of the AIADMK. “The huge loss for the DMK in Coimbatore District in the 2006 Assembly elections had led to this claim. We lost only one seat in Erode District.”
Mr. Periasamy says it is unwise to extrapolate the Coimbatore case to the rest of the region. And, Coimbatore also cannot be labelled an AIADMK bastion. Various reasons, including the choice of candidates, may have been the reason for the defeat of the DMK in Coimbatore last time.
Former AIADMK Minister and party State secretary for elections Pollachi V. Jayaraman contests this argument. “We have a good record in this region and we are confident of winning a majority of the seats this time also. Various issues such as power cut in the region will work to our advantage this time round,” he says. Mr. Jayaraman asserts that Tirupur will be a difficult turf for the DMK because the present government failed to address the issue of pollution that led to the closure of many dyeing units.
Issues such as farm labour migration owing to decline in agriculture, price rise and poor pace of industrialisation dominate the campaign in Salem, Namakkal, Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri districts.
A senior DMK member in Coimbatore agrees that it will not be a cakewalk for the DMK. But, the AIADMK has been weakened by the exodus of some key members.
In Erode, it will miss former Minister S. Muthusamy (Erode East constituency candidate) who has crossed over to the DMK, he says.
To win over Coimbatore voters, the DMK is listing the infrastructure development schemes implemented in the city and suburbs in the run-up to the World Classical Tamil Conference in June last year.
The promises made at the conference and thereafter figure in the campaign of Pongalur N. Palanisamy, party nominee for Coimbatore South constituency.
In the Nilgiris District, apart from development, the spectrum charges against its MP and former Union Telecommunications Minister A. Raja is an issue.
Voters say Mr. Raja has visited the constituency often to look into its problems.
Both fronts appear weighed down by dissent that may affect the micro-level campaign.
This has mostly to do with the disappointment over outsiders being fielded at the expense of the local members of the DMK, Congress and PMK.
The Congress went through some embarrassing moments with the attempt to change its candidate Hazeena Syed in Krishnagiri.
The DMK's Hosur Municipal Chairman A.S. Sathya is a rebel candidate against the official Congress nominee and sitting MLA K.R. Gopinath.
At Pappireddipatti in Dharmapuri District, former DMK Minister V. Mullaivendan is facing the former party legal wing secretary S. Velu, who is contesting as an Independent.
The AIADMK alliance too ran into an instance of rebellion last week, when a group of disgruntled DMDK members hurled petrol bombs into the house of party official nominee for Tiruchengode (in Namakkal District) P. Sampathkumar, in protest against his nomination.
(with inputs from R. Ilangovan in Salem)