Religious undercurrents in Kanniyakumari

Religious undercurrents in Kanniyakumari
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Pon. Radhakrishnan is expected to poll a lot of Nadar votes, Vijayakumar Vasanth banks on minorities

Voters in the Kanniyakumari Lok Sabha constituency — where a byelection will be held on April 6 — are believed to vote on religious affinities. The mobilisation on religious lines began in the 1980s.

Former Union Minister Pon. Radhakrishnan of the BJP won twice, when candidates of major parties entered the fray and shared among themselves the anti-BJP votes. He is facing Congress candidate Vijayakumar Vasanth, son of H. Vasanthakumar, whose death caused the vacancy. Both are Hindu Nadars, the predominant community of the district. While Mr. Radhakrishnan is expected to poll a substantial portion of the community votes, Mr. Vijayakumar could get significant support from the Christians and the Muslims, besides DMK, Congress and Communist voters.

The BJP is going all out to win the constituency back since it is in power at the Centre. In an election season, it has belatedly scrapped plans to build a container transshipment hub in the district through public-and-private partnership following opposition from local fishermen, who are Roman Catholics. It also believes that the votes of the ruling AIADMK will work in favour of Mr. Radhakrishnan.

“But the AIADMK’s presence will not help the BJP because there is not much of a change on the ground since the last election. The attitude of the government remains the same, and I believe Mr. Vijayakumar Vasanth stands a better chance of winning the election,” says James Reynolds Daniel, former principal of the Scott Christian College. He also believes the middles class and the “intelligentsia” have a good opinion of the Secular Progressive Alliance because of the “failure of the Central and State governments” to address the local issues, such the Enayam port and the transshipment hub.

When told that the Centre had scrapped the transshipment hub project, Mr. Daniels says it is not easy to read the mind of the government since Mr. Radhakrishnan gave an assurance that he would not bring any project against the wish of the local people and subsequently made a case for allowing him to complete the projects he had already brought for the district.

“Though the BJP has done a lot of things for the minorities, fringe incidents like harassment of nuns on a train has sent out a wrong signal,” he says.

‘Never betrayed them’

Mr. Radhakrishnan, while campaigning at Colachel, regretted that “religion enters the scene during election”, though people cutting across religious identities attended marriages and other functions.

“I was a Central Minister for 10 years and can anyone say I have betrayed the Christians and Muslims? If anyone proves it, I will quit from the election,” he said.

He said the district was lagging behind in development because of the late MP Vasanthakumar. “That is why we are telling people to vote for Mr. Radhakrishnan and he can make a difference,” says R. Arumugam, secretary, BJP legal wing.

“What works in our favour is the Assembly election, which has given space for an intense campaign at the grassroots. We hope the cancellation of the transshipment hub project and the goodwill enjoyed by AIADMK candidate Thalavai Sundaram among the fishermen will help Mr. Radhakrishnan too,” Mr. Arumugam says.

But the victory margin of over 2.5 lakh votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha election is too big for the BJP to cover. “The Congress is not campaigning much because it knows that the Christians and the Muslims will solidly vote for the party. The Congress candidate also has the votes of his party and the DMK. But the neutral Hindus among the DMK sympathisers will throw their weight behind Mr. Radhakrishnan because of the anti-Hindu diatribes of the DMK and its allies,” says V. Umaiyorbhagan, former principal, Noorul Islam College of Arts and Science, Kumarakovil.

He says the Kanda Shashti Kavacham controversy, DMK MP Kanimozhi’s speech against contributing to the Tirupati ‘hundi’ and allowing women into the Sabarimala temple were still fresh in the minds of people. “But I do not know whether it will pave the way for the victory of the BJP candidate. But Hindu votes have consolidated. The DMK’s objection to the economic criteria for reservation [the open category] has also angered people in the district,” Mr. Umaiyorbhagan says.

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