In western Tamil Nadu, the ‘rainbow alliance,’ led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, seeks to cash in on the caste factor, even as the party claims that a win this time hinges more on the ‘Modi factor’ that could turn into a ‘Modi wave.’

At least in three constituencies, the caste factor emphatically comes into play. For instance, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), which is identified with the OBC Vanniyars, has been allotted Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri, the former having a substantial Vanniyar population.

And the Kongu Makkal Desiya Katchi (KMDK) was roped in to win over the Gounders, another prominent BC group  present across the region from Namakkal to Coimbatore. The party’s general secretary, E.R. Easwaran, contests from Pollachi.

The former Union Minister, Anbumani Ramadoss, of the PMK contests from Dharmapuri, where votes appear to have been polarised on caste lines after a love marriage between a Dalit youth and a Vanniyar girl led to a mob fury on three Dalit colonies more than a year ago. The girl’s father committed suicide, anguished over the marriage, and the youth ended his life after the girl left him.

Despite a significant Vanniyar population, Salem has gone to Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), leaving the PMK upset. The BJP, too, aimed for Salem, looking to use, what it claims, the sympathy following the murder of its State general secretary V. Ramesh.

According to a State-level BJP functionary, the PMK’s influence is restricted to the Vanniyar belt such as Dharmapuri. Therefore, the DMDK had to be roped in for its larger acceptability across various sections, including the Dalits who can make out that the PMK they oppose is not a comfortable ally for the DMDK.

The BJP also seeks to use the presence of the DMDK and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) to prevent any interplay of caste and electoral politics.

A conservative estimate puts the total number of Vanniyar votes at 4 lakh-4.5 lakh out of the 14.65 lakh electorate in Salem.  The rest are made up by various communities, including people from northern States who have been living here for decades to do trade.

The BJP also rejects the ‘Vanniyar factor’ turning decisive in Salem. The AIADMK and the DMK have had their traditional vote share among the Vanniyars, and therefore, this vote bank cannot swing completely to one party, even if it is to be the PMK. Hence, the BJP feels there is nothing much for DMDK candidate L.K. Sudheesh to lose by way of Vanniyar votes.

BJP State treasurer S.R. Seghar contends that the caste factor works in a major way only when there is no supervening factor. “This time, there is a clear pro-Narendra Modi wave that will place it above the caste factor.” However, the choice of seats for the PMK and the KMDK points otherwise, if only by way of subtly reinforcing the caste factor.

Interestingly, four other key constituencies — Coimbatore, Pollachi, Tirupur and Erode — have traditionally been Gounder-dominated segments, where candidates belonging to this caste have been fielded, even as the BJP-led front does a hardsell of the ‘Modi factor.’

The candidates in Coimbatore will also have to face a mixed voter population in this city as in the case of Salem. The rainbow alliance yet looks to consolidate its position with these very factors in a region where the Congress has had a good success rate in the past, in most instances as an ally of either the AIADMK or the DMK.

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