Party’s youth wing leader Anbumani Ramadoss locked in 5-cornered contest
The contest for the Dharmapuri Lok Sabha constituency in 2014, an economically backward area, poses yet another test for the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) to prove its strength for the fourth time. Its youth wing leader and former Union Minister for Health, Anbumani Ramadoss is in the fray here this time.
The PMK had won the seat three times in a row in 1998, 1999 and 2004 Lok Sabha elections, either in alliance with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) or the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). But, this time round, the party is facing the election under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) umbrella headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
As the constituency has a majority of the OBC Vanniyars, the PMK hope to regain the seat as the party is identified with this community. In fact, the party has worked to consolidate the Vanniyar votes since the November 7, 2012 attack on three Dalit colonies in Naikkankottai village, in the wake of a love marriage between a Vanniyar girl and a Dalit boy.
The attack was in retaliation to this episode.
After the incident, the PMK founder-leader, S. Ramadoss, formed the Social Democratic Alliance, consisting of Caste-Hindu groups, to oppose such inter-caste love marriages.
This in turn has polarised the voters on caste lines over the past 18 months or so.
While the Dharmapuri constituency comprises six Assembly segments of Palacode, Pennagaram, Dharmapuri, Pappireddipatti, Harur (Reserved) and Mettur (in neighbouring Salem district), the ‘Vanniyars’ are the dominant community in Dharmapuri district, accounting for 41 per cent of its population, followed by Dalits 21 per cent and Vellala Gounders 16 per cent among others.
The DMK, which has renominated its sitting M.P., R. Thamaraiselvan, adjudged one of the top performers in the Lok Sabha by the PRS Legislative Research in the outgoing Lok Sabha, also belongs to the Vanniyar community.
He is credited with initiating road works with Central funds, a survey for the Morappur-Dharmapuri Railway line project and bringing a DRDO (Defence Research Development Organisation) facility to Dharmapuri.
The AIADMK has fielded a lawyer, P.S. Mohan.
It fully banks on the development works implemented by the Jayalalithaa regime during the last three years in the district, the opening of arts and science and engineering colleges included.
While all the parties claim credit for the Rs. 1,928.80 -crore Hogenakkal Drinking Water and Fluorosis Mitigation Project, the AIADMK claims credit for implementing it.
The rival parties, however, point out that the water is yet to reach many rural habitations that reel under scarcity.
Former Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president Vazhapadi Ramamurthy’s son Rama Suganthan, fielded by the Congress, has promised to make the Morappur-Dharmapuri Railway link a reality at the earliest.
A noted advocate here, S. Rajinikanth, who took up the compensation issue of the affected Naikkankottai village Dalits, is contesting on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket.
Even as the two main Left parties, CPI and CPI (M) have come around to back the BSP candidate in the coming election as the Left is not contesting the Dharmapuri seat, the 21 per cent Dalit votes and seven per cent minorities votes will also play a crucial role in determining the outcome of this five-cornered contest.
Some of the Dalit leaders spoken to said that their votes were already consolidated after the November 2012 attacks on their colony.
They are likely to support either the DMK that is contesting in alliance with the Dalit outfit, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), or the ruling AIADMK, they indicated.
A tough contest is on the cards, implying Dharmapuri may not be a cakewalk for the PMK.