CPI, BJP set for another clash

COIMBATORE, FEB. 20. The Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will clash for the second consecutive time for the Coimbatore seat in the coming Lok Sabha elections. While the BJP looks for a hat trick of wins (it won in 1998 and 1999), the CPI wants a return to its halcyon days when it had won four times between 1957 and 1973.

Coimbatore is seen as a significant constituency from two angles. One, as an industrial belt where strong sentiments over economic policies may reflect on the voting. The Left parties have always been convinced that this is a factor.

Two, as a region that has suffered at the hands of religious extremists. Parties swearing by secularism have blamed the BJP for whipping up communal passion with an eye on votes. The BJP credited the first win in 1998 (also in the Nilgiris that is close enough to feel the impact of the happenings in Coimbatore) to public resentment against pseudo secularism. In 1999, the party campaign focused on development and steered clear of the communal factor, realising that the people were not too keen to consider it.

For both parties, the constituency holds a lot of stakes. The Assembly constituencies of Tirupur, Coimbatore East, Palladam and Singanallur are industrial zones which are claimed by the CPI as its strength.

But, the claim was true till 1973 when the party enjoyed the voters' faith, as reflected in the wins it recorded.

In 1957, Parvati Krishnan (CPI) defeated Congress' P.R. Ramakrishnan. In 1971, K. Baladhandayutham contested for the CPI and defeated Ramakrishnan (Cong). When the former died in an air crash in 1973, the by-election held that year saw Ms. Krishnan win again, defeating S.V. Lakshmanan of the Congress. She clashed with Ramakrishnan again in 1977 and emerged victorious.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) had a win to its credit in 1967 when its candidate K. Ramani defeated industrialist N. Mahalingam, who had contested on Congress ticket.

The Congress had consecutive wins in 1984, 1989 and 1991 with C.K. Kuppusamy as candidate. He is the paternal uncle of the current BJP president and sitting MP of Coimbatore, C.P. Radhakrishnan. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) won in 1980 (Era Mohan) and 1996 (M. Ramanathan). The BJP's electoral gains in the State began in Coimbatore. Its chances against the DMK were slim in 1998.

But, the serial blasts in the city on February 14, 1998 turned the tide in favour of the BJP, which used Islamic fundamentalism as its poll plank. Mr. Radhakrishnan won by a mile against the DMK's K.R. Subbaiyan. However, he was pitted against a stronger candidate in the CPI State secretary, R. Nallakkannu in the 1999 polls. He polled lesser votes in his hometown, Tirupur, and, only Coimbatore East and Coimbatore West gave him the edge over Mr. Nallakkannu.

Significantly, the CPI leader was not even the `son of the soil'. But, this time, the CPI has one in K. Subbarayan, who won from Tirupur in the 1996 Assembly elections.

If Mr. Radhakrishan were to contest again, it will be an interesting tussle.

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