On the face of it, the ‘Rainbow Alliance’ formed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), roping in the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) looks like a formidable alliance in the caste-sensitive Southern districts of Tamil Nadu in the coming Lok Sabha polls. The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) another BJP ally, strong in northern belt, hardly has any presence in the south.

However, it seems unlikely that the NDA will have a cakewalk in the south, as local caste/sub-castes and religious dynamics are at play in the run-up to the polls.

This is notwithstanding the fact that parties like the Vaiko-led MDMK had been getting sizeable minorities votes in the past elections.

“I know that the Muslims may not support me this time because I am in the company of the BJP. However, I will continue to be a friend of the Muslims as I will continue to oppose the BJP’s proposal to introduce common civil code in the country,” said N. Thirumalaikumar, the MDMK’s candidate for the Tenkasi (reserved) constituency.

The antipathy towards the MDMK was at play as Dr. Thirumalaikumar entered Kadayanallur, a predominantly Muslim town. He was plainly but politely told that the Muslims, who had highest regards for the MDMK in the past, had decided to steer clear of Mr. Vaiko’s party for having entered electoral pact with the BJP.

S. Sivananainthaperumal, DMDK candidate for Tirunelveli constituency also could not escape the fury of Muslims when he went to Melapalayam to seek their support. When a group of Muslim youths blocked his entourage, a couple of policemen on the spot appealed to the candidate and his supporters to vacate the place to avoid any unnecessary argument.

Seeking to play down the hostile reception accorded to his party candidates, DMDK’s Tirunelveli east district secretary Ganesh Kumar Adityan explained that they were handiwork of a small group affiliated to some Muslim outfits to reiterate their presence. “After explaining our position we were allowed to campaign in the same area (Melapalayam) in the next couple of days without any problem,” said Mr. Adityan.

At the same time, MDMK candidate for Tuticorin Lok Sabha constituency S. Joel, did not have any problem in carrying out his campaign even in the Muslim-dominant hamlets. The BJP and its allies faced no resistance in holding electioneering in the Christian-dominant areas in the rural and urban areas, partly due to Vaiko’s personal popularity in those areas. When Mr. Joel was mobilising support in the southern Tuticorin district, where the CSI Christians have sizeable presence, he received overwhelming response notwithstanding their party’s association with the BJP.

“None can suspect our leader’s (Mr. Vaiko) integrity … He has clearly stated that the MDMK, though it has entered an electoral pact with the BJP, would never accept the Common Civil Code,” said ‘Minnal’ Mohamed Ali, party’s deputy secretary of Tirunelveli district and MDMK’s Internet wing coordinator.

BJP’s mega alliance and Minorities

In southernmost Kanyakumari district, the BJP seeks to repeat its victory in the 1999 polls, pining hopes on the mega alliance it has managed to cobble up to overcome consolidation of the Christian votes. In 2009, the DMDK alone polled over 68,000 votes.

Even though the DMDK is part of the BJP alliance, Mr. Austin, the known face of the party in the district has defected to the DMK. His absence, the BJP, hopes will be compensated by Vaiko’s Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK). Mr. Austin, however, claimed that the minorities, who in the past had voted for the DMDK and MDMK, would not bring themselves to vote for parties now keeping company with the communal BJP.

S.P. Udayakumar, the man in the forefront of anti-nuclear protests against the nuclear power plant at Kudankulam and the candidate of Aam Aadmi Party now, is expected to get the support of the fishermen in the district and in the process prevent consolidation of Christian votes in favour of a single Christian candidate. The presence of Congress candidate H. Vasanthakumar is also likely to help BJP’s Pon. Radhakrishnan, if such a consolidation of the Christian votes for a single Christian candidate fails to take place.

Apart from the dominant OBC communities like Thevars and Nadars in the southern districts, a significant sprinkling of other backward communities also play a crucial role in the winnability of parties. For instance, the Yadava community is said to comprise about 17.40 per cent of the electorate in Tirunelveli Parliamentary constituency. In Ramanathapuram, Yadavas again constitute about 18 per cent of the electorate and could play a crucial role besides the Muslims there.

Further, the presence of the two major Dalit parties- Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi and Pudhiya Tamizhagam- besides all the known Muslim outfits including IUML in the DMK-front- it is expected to make a dent on the BJP-led NDA in the southern districts.

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