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Elections 2019: BJP-Congress Slugfest in Kanyakumari Lok Sabha Constituency

It is the BJP’s only sitting seat in Tamil Nadu, however, the party is facing a tough time ahead with the rise of dissent against the government, while Congress thrives for glory after two decades.
Pon Radhakrishnan

P. Radhakrishnan. Image Courtesy: Indian Herald

Kanyakumari Lok Sabha constituency is one of the two constituencies in Tamil Nadu where the BJP and Congress will lock horns (the other being Sivagangai LS constituency). Sitting MP and Union Minister of State, P Radhakrishnan is seeking re-election against H Vasantha Kumar of Congress, who contested unsuccessfully in the 2014 elections. Kanyakumari is known for its religious polarisation post Mandaicadu riots in the year 1982, in spite of being the district with highest literacy rate in the state. The district also has an almost equal population of majority and minority religions. Hindus constitute 48.6% and Christians 46.8%. The Christians and Muslims together constitute 51% of the total population.

The district is a stronghold of the national parties with an impressive record of 16 victories in the erstwhile Nagercoil and the present Kanyakumari constituency. The Congress or its splinter groups have won 13 times, BJP twice and CPI(M) once. The regional party DMK won in 2009, but AIADMK has never tasted victory here. The BJP’s victory in 1999 and 2014 is attributed to the split of minority votes as part of a multi-cornered fight. The BJP uses the fact of other parties fielding Christian candidates, with 2014 and 2019 being exceptions post 1982, to consolidate the Hindu votes in its favour. Interestingly, the present Congress candidate is the uncle of BJP State President Dr. Tamil Isai Soundararajan. Her father Kumari Anandhan had represented the Nagercoil constituency in 1977 as an Indian National Congress (Organisation) Nominee.


BJP’s Hindu Vote Bank

The BJP and RSS with the support of fringe Hindu fundamentalist elements like Hindu Munnani, Shiv Sena, Hindu Makkal Katchi and Vishwa Hindu Parishad have played a major role in polarising the population here. The party had taken up many issues in the district to promote the Hindu sentiment amongst the population. One of its major struggles namely “July Porattam” (literally translated as July Struggle) was to demand scholarship for all poor Hindu students. Huge meetings would be organised every year in the month of July insisting this demand. The posters and hoardings put up carried venomous statements like “Mary and Fathima, coming in premium cars get scholarship, but poor Mari is denied scholarship just because she is Hindu”. The BJP even promised to fulfil this demand once it comes to power. But, the fact remains that no steps have been taken to fulfil the same.

Also Read: Elections 2019: Enemies Become Friends as Electoral Alliances Emerge in TN

Opposition to Sagarmala and Seaport in Kanyakumari

In the run up to the 2014 General elections, the BJP had promised to establish a commercial port in Kanyakumari, near Colachel to provide employment to the educated youth of the district. But, after capturing power, the location of the harbour was shifted to Enayam as an International Container Transhipment Terminal instead of the promised commercial port. Ever since this idea was mooted, the fishermen community was up in arms, stating that the proposed port will destroy their livelihood. The BJP tactically propagated that the Christian population and the fishermen community in particular is against the development of the district. A prolonged struggle of the community made the government to shift the project site to Kovalam near Kanyakumari. The port proposed as part of the Sagarmala Project by the Union government has drawn flak from the fisher folks as well as the environmentalists. Such a project will damage the coastline resulting in loss of livelihood for the fishing community and large scale destruction of coastal bio-diversity. The 71.5 km coastline and 47 fishing hamlets are set to bear the brunt of the Sagarmala and Transhipment project if it is being implemented. And in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the 1.5 lakh strong fishing community will definitely be one of the deciding factors.

Ayyavazhi Community Demand Separate Religion Status

The Nadar community form a huge majority in Hinduism and Christianity, especially in Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi Districts. A major faction of Hindu Nadars follow Ayyavazhi, after the late reformist Ayya Vaikundar who fought against the hegemony of the then Travancore King. Kanyakumari district was a part of Travancore Princely State till the reorganisation of states in 1956. Nadars were victims of brutal untouchability customs during the time. Nadar women had to pay tax even to cover their breast. They have separate ways of worship as compared to other sections of the Nadar community. The head of Ayyavazhi, Balaprajabathi Adigalar had recently demanded separate religion status for them in the line of the Lingayats in Karnataka. They had also demanded to rename the Nagercoil-Trivandrum highway after the late Ayya Vaikundar. Recently, the Swamithope ‘pathi’, the headquarters of the Ayyavazhi, has been taken over by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department to which the followers are opposed to. Even though the community remains vastly unorganised, this demand may dent a blow to BJP as the community had traditionally supported the party.

Concerns on Agricultural Lands and Four Lane Road

Kanyakumari being the second smallest district in the state largely depends on agriculture for its economy. With government policies continuously betraying the farmers, the shrinking of agricultural land continues. The district also has lost huge quantity of agricultural lands to the ongoing expansions of roads. Not just agricultural lands, but the road passes through a number of water bodies, too, which are purely meant for agricultural purposes. Many environmental enthusiasts have expressed their pain over such mass destruction of farm lands. 'Let’s Rebuild Kanyakumari’, a movement headed by G.Devasahayam, former I.A.S officer and Thomas Franco, Former General Secretary of Bank officers Confederation have obtained a stay on the filling up of ponds for road works from the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court. The district being a beneficiary of two monsoons continues to lose many of the mountains and hillocks belonging to the Western Ghats. This impact on environment in the name of development has not gone well with people irrespective of their political affiliations.

Also Read: Elections 2019: The Great (Dirty) Game of BJP Alliances

Other issues like falling prices of rubber, a major cash crop in the district, reckless relaxation of cashew import affecting thousands of cashew nut factory workers, reduction of funds towards MGNREGA, falling prices of agricultural produce, increasing cost of living are all believed to give a run for money to the BJP, while the saffron party is banking on its traditional way of consolidating the Hindu votes.

Even though the district appears to be calm and united with relatively less law and order issues, the BJP, RSS and fringe elements have filled the minorities with fear and insecurity. This attitude of the Sangh parivar is a part of their larger agenda of decimating the minority communities and moving towards a Hindu rashtra. With dissent against the BJP-led government, along with the local issues of livelihood demands, the Congress seems to have gained an upper hand in the initial phase. The alliance of Congress with the DMK and CPI(M) which have won the constituency once along with other partners that have considerable influence among the voters, may tilt the balance in favour of the Congress candidate.

Read More: Lok Sabha 2019: DMK Inks Poll Pact With 3 More Parties, including CPI

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