Annamalai faces tough competition from DMK, AIADMK as he strives for victory


PTI, Apr 17, 2024, 11:14 AM IST

Coimbatore: When the high-profile DMK minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan was moved from Finance to Information Technology department in May 2023, it was widely believed it was a fallout of an audio clip leak by BJP Tamil Nadu chief K Annamalai.

Then, Annamalai, who had already been generating political controversies, made solid gains in the perception battle, which was all about whether it was the BJP or AIADMK in questioning the powers that be and performing the role of a vibrant opposition party.

Months later, 39-year old Annamalai as the BJP candidate in Coimbatore Lok Sabha constituency is consistent in challenging both the ruling DMK and main opposition AIADMK. By releasing RTI documents on ceding of Katchatheevu, the Congress party also came under his fierce attack.

AIADMK leaders even alleged Annamalai spoke ill of Dravidian icon CN Annadurai and late party supremo J Jayalalithaa and that it was the trigger for snapping of ties with the BJP last year.

Hence, be it the audio clip episode, or AIADMK breaking ties, Annamalai became a key point of political discourse in one way or the other. Little wonder, Coimbatore, the hub of western region, is the most keenly watched constituency in Tamil Nadu. Thiaga Rajan had denied BJP’s allegation that it was his voice that was heard in the audio clip. Nearly a year after shifting him, Chief Minister M K Stalin Stalin said the moved was effected to improve and reform the IT department.

Just to prove its electoral heft, the ruling DMK chose to field its candidate from Coimbatore rather than giving it to allies.

Former Mayor, P Ganapaty Rajkumar is the DMK candidate. In 2019, DMK ally CPI(M) won the seat.

DMK bets on a string of its welfare schemes including fare-free travel for women in buses. It appears to battle some anti-incumbency like discontent among MSMEs over high cost of electricity despite Stalin’s measures to address their grievances.

Nearly 3,000 MSME units staged a hunger protest last year opposing power tariff hike. An industry source told PTI: ”The MSME units have been worst hit due to power tariff hike. Representations to the government have not elicited a positive response so far.” The MSMEs are under stress.” AIADMK’s Singai G Ramachandran (36) is the youngest among candidates fielded by major parties. He and Annamalai are both IIM graduates and Rajkumar (58) holds a doctorate in journalism.

In the run up to the polls, though leader of Opposition and AIADMK chief, Edappadi K Palaniswami asserted the fight is only between his party and the DMK, the BJP is working hard and enthusiastic too, to give the well entrenched Dravidian parties a run for their money.

BJP workers depend on Annamalai’s popularity to emerge victorious. He has has made 100 promises to be fulfilled in 500 days and assurances include cleaning up rivers, an international airport and food vans named after former Chief Minister K Kamaraj. Kamaraj was a veteran of the freedom movement, a Congress icon remembered for his honesty and groundbreaking work for the people.

Traditionally, a bastion of the AIADMK, the Left outfits and trade unions affiliated to them hold a sway over segments of workers here. Similarly, the BJP has several pockets of influence in Coimbatore and a committed voter-base. This is also a region where the Hindu outfits have a comparatively good presence. However, BJP’s cadre strength appears to be no match for the organisational prowess of DMK and AIADMK.

The crux of the AIADMK’s campaign here is that only its previous regimes brought growth and developed infrastructure and both the DMK and BJP did nothing for the western region.

It dismissed an edge for Annamalai as ”maya” created in the media by the BJP itself. The AIADMK is very confident that only its candidates would win Coimbatore, Pollachi, Nilgiris, Erode and Tirupur segments.

Communally sensitive, the car blast, on Deepavali eve in 2022 is fresh in the memory of people. Recently, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a road show here, he paid homage to the victims of the 1998 serial bomb blast in which 58 people were killed. Incidentally, Annamalai has promised to set up a unit of the National Investigation Agency here.

A textile and industrial hub, there are several issues in Coimbatore including the demand of MSMEs to slash GST for job work.

Days ago, Chief Minister Stalin addressing a meet at nearby Avinashi alleged Modi’s ”twin attack” of demonetisation and GST implementation has hit industries in this western region.

”Industrial units that had once put up notice boards announcing hiring of workers, now display auction notices,” he then alleged.

The industry source said continuous increase in prices of raw materials and allied goods have further hurt the MSMEs. ”Surge in raw material costs leads to cancellation of orders; it will further lead to decline in exports.” Coimbatore and nearby areas house textile units, manufacturing units of auto components, wet grinders, motor pumps and foundries. Car makers Maruti Udyog and Tata Motors source up to 30 per cent of their automotive components from the city.

Kalamani Jaganathan (36) is Naam Tamilar Katchi’s pick.

In essence, Coimbatore is facing a four-way contest and Annamalai’s entry has made the fight pretty tough. In 1999 LS polls, the BJP’s CP Radhakrishnan won the seat as part of alliance with the DMK. In 1998 he won that seat, and the BJP was AIADMK’s ally then. Elections to 39 Lok Sabha seats in TN will be held on April 19.

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