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|February 7, 1998|
Pre-poll violence very much a possibility
N Sathiya Moorthy
It could not have come a day sooner for the Bharatiya Janata Party -- the snap poll to the Lok Sabha as also the alliance with the already existing electoral combine under the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Though some sections within the BJP's state unit still have reservations about the AIADMK alliance, even they concede it has taken the party that much closer to winning at least the Nagercoil parliamentary seat, near land's end.
"I will win by a margin of 70,000 votes," asserts Pon Radhakrishnan, the BJP's candidate at Nagercoil. His 29,000-vote defeat was the smallest losing margin against the DMK-TMC combine, under 'poll-wave' conditions prevailing in the state in 1996. This he hopes to upturn now.
What's more, even as the party's national leadership was busy mustering support for the short-lived Vajpayee government, it is reported to have quietly given the green signal for Radhakrishnan to prepare for the next round of elections, whenever it was held. And Radhakrishnan did not lost any time.
He polled 169,886 votes, against the 197,582 votes cast in favour of N Dennis (Tamil Maanila Congress) who has won the seat since 1980 on a Congress ticket. In a 'nationalist constituency' with a considerable Marxist presence, the Janata Dal's non-controversial candidate, P Muhammed Ismail, polled 130,753 votes in the company of the CPI-M and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
The then state Congress chief Kumari Ananthan, who won the seat in 1977 as the Janata Party nominee, came a poor fourth, polling 51,726 votes in the company of the then ruling AIADMK, against which alliance the TMC had been formed on poll-eve.
"Today, the AIADMK and the MDMK are on our side, and what's more, the literate voters in the constituency want a 'stable government and an able leader at the Centre', which is what the BJP has promised," says Radhakrishnan. He also cites Dennis's 'non-performance' in the past 17 years, as another reason for his likely victory.
Dennis's uncle A Nesamony was the 'uncrowned king' of the region and died in 1969 during his third term in the Lok Sabha. It's this family connection, as also Dennis's Christian community, that has stood by the candidate in this communally-sensitive constituency.
Kanyakumari district, of whose seven assembly segments the Nagercoil parliamentary constituency has six, has been a traditional Congress stronghold. The party won all six assembly segments even in the worst poll debacle in 1967.
"We will win by 75,000 votes," asserts district TMC president S Jayapal. "People in the district are nationally-minded, and have been voting for the Congress, first, and the TMC, later. Even the Janata Party and Janata Dal votes in the district are basically Congress votes, and the CPI-M joining the DMK-TMC combine has improved our chances."
Jayapal also disputes the charge that Dennis has done little for the constituency. Refuting the BJP's charge that the MP has not helped industrialise the literate constituency, he says, given the high land costs and its low availability, nothing could have been done, particularly when the locals are sentimentally wedded to their agricultural lands.
"Even Jayalalitha as chief minister promised a Rs 4 billion rubber factory here. Why can't the BJP leaders ask her about the promise, now that they are sailing together?" the TMC leader asks.
Radhakrishnan has been in the forefront of public agitations in the constituency, and this has made him popular. "But most of them involves religious issues, leading to a religious divide," says Jayapal. But he has no answer why the TMC now, or the Congress earlier, had not taken up public causes like non-laying of roads, when the local BJP could at least project it in right earnest.
According to Jayapal, the "55-per cent strong Christian voters" in the constituency, in the company of another five per cent of non-Hindu voters, are scared of the BJP despite all its promises. "They have been witness to the happenings in the district ever since the BJP-RSS combine became strong."
As he points out, Dennis's son was kidnapped during the 1996 poll, allegedly by BJP activists. The post-poll scenario witnessed much violence, but Radhakrishnan blames it on the TMC-DMK combine.
"The local people know the truth. Dennis is non-controversial and non-communal, even if you argue that he has been non-performing," says Jayapal. "No one can lay any charge of inciting violence against him, or instilling communal hatred in the mind of the locals," where the majority Nadar community has entered into wedlock across the Hindu-Christian divide all along.
"I will sail through," asserts Radhakrishnan. "Christian voters in the constituency are aware of what is happening around them in the country, and there has been no communal violence in the states ruled by the BJP."
"Even in the last election, Christian fishermen in some coastal pockets voted for the BJP, after I took up the issue of inter-community feud between trawler-owners and traditional fishermen," he adds. Jayapal concedes this is true, but says Radhakrishnan and the BJP would lose out on some 'Hindu votes' as they have been ignoring feuds involving two or more Hindu groups, fearing a loss of votes.
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