Lok Sabha polls | Battle lines drawn for a three-cornered fight in the Vanniyar belt in Dharmapuri

The Dharmapuri Parliamentary constituency is often projected as a safe seat for the PMK. However, with shifted alliances and voters with an almost party-agnostic caste affiliation, any prediction on who will take the victory is a tenuous one

Updated - April 02, 2024 02:06 pm IST

Published - April 02, 2024 01:10 am IST - Dharmapuri

The lack of water harvesting schemes to support agriculture has been a persistent issue for the voters in the constituency. File

The lack of water harvesting schemes to support agriculture has been a persistent issue for the voters in the constituency. File | Photo Credit: K.V. Srinivasan

The battle-lines have been drawn long and hard for Dharmapuri Lok Sabha constituency, where a three-cornered fight between the DMK, AIADMK, and PMK is brewing. The Naam Tamilar Katchi is also in the fray.

The Vanniyar dominated constituency, often projected as a safe seat for the PMK, will see an all-stakes fight. Party president Anbumani Ramadoss was defeated in 2019, and this time, his wife and president of Pasumai Thayagam, a non-governmental organisation, Sowmiya Anbumani has been fielded.

A cursory look at the constituency, comprising the Assembly segments of Dharmapuri (PMK), Pennagaram (PMK), Palacode (AIADMK), Harur (AIADMK), Paapireddipatti (AIADMK), and Salem’s Mettur (PMK), may look like a disadvantage for the DMK. This was the only other district after Coimbatore that did not return a single DMK MLA in 2021.

This truism also stands for the shifted alliances since and the changed fortunes of the AIADMK and PMK, whose joint strength had led the sweep then. And equally for the DMK’s standalone vote share – as reflected in the Assembly votes polled. Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam, which opposed the DMK and AIADMK in 2019 and 2021, is now with the former. In 2019, the DMK won by over 70,000 votes, while AMMK’s P. Palaniappan (now in the DMK) polled 53,655 votes, and the Makkal Needhi Maiam polled 15,614.

The constituency’s caste composition is predominantly Vanniyar, followed by Dalits, Kongu Vellalar Gounder, and other intermediate castes such as Mudaliar, Reddiar, and Naidu, followed by a considerable percentage of minorities. The PMK would sweep a critical chunk of the Vanniyar vote bank, with the remaining being shared between the DMK and the AIADMK.

Mr. Palaniappan summons caste allegiance from his Kongu Vellalar Gounder community, which constitutes a significant voter base in Paapireddipatti, Palacode, and Harur. His presence in the DMK is expected to split the community’s votes, which were earlier milked by the AIADMK by drawing on their shared caste allegiance with its leader Edappadi K. Palaniswami. DMK’s alliance with the Kongunadu Makkal Desiya Katchi would only aid in this split in votes. The Dalit and minority votes are also likely to be tapped by the DMK. The swing vote, wielded by the other intermediate castes, is unlikely to favour the PMK.

The last-minute announcement of Ms. Sowmiya’s candidature elevated Dharmapuri to a ‘star’ constituency. Her entry has energised the cadre-based party into action. At the same time, as the party patriarch’s daughter-in-law and invocation of familial affiliation to the voter as the ‘daughter of their house’ may or may not strike a chord for voters. For the disillusioned among the PMK cadre, her last minute candidature may have reinforced an oft-voiced perception of the PMK’s founding family’s almost feudal patro-client relationship with the constituency.

DMK’s candidate A. Mani, a lawyer, and the party’s district joint secretary, had unsuccessfully contested the simultaneous bypoll in 2019 for Paapireddipatti Assembly constituency and polled 84,000 votes. The AIADMK has fielded R. Asokan, son of the party’s town secretary ‘Pookadai’ Ravi. A government doctor who has since resigned to test the electoral waters.

In an intensely caste-polarised constituency, an almost party-agnostic caste affiliation makes any prediction tenuous.

The DMK, which has in its camp the Congress, Left parties, VCK, and others, hopes to benefit on the presumption of the massive split in votes in the opposite camps. The AIADMK would have to poll its traditional votes in an altered alliance environment after a long time to gauge its actual strength. For the PMK, the Vanniyar party will have to go way beyond its traditional vote bank to clinch the seat.

And yet, the PMK being a force to reckon with in the current election in this constituency was evident in the recent election speech of Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, when he directed his attacks on the “double-speak” and “opportunism” of the PMK’s founder S. Ramadoss, while reducing the AIADMK to a mere footnote in an almost-hour-long speech.

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