The three-day visit to the Kongu region in western Tamil Nadu by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi seems to have rekindled some hope in the state party unit, despite a low-key response that he received.
Among the various traditional ways to communicate with the people, the Congress leader tried almost everything; he stopped his convoy and walked on, danced with the local communities and sipped tea at the local shop. But the party failed to dish out much, failing even to gather a sizeable crowd to project its strength.
On the other hand, ruling AIADMK’s Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, who was campaigning in Coimbatore district at the same time, was able to get a much larger crowd. The comparison proved yet again that regional parties continue to catch more attention for public meetings.
By choosing to campaign the same day, EPS sent out a message to its principal Opposition DMK and its ally the Congress the AIADMK has the largest vote bank in the Kongu region dominated by Kongu Vellalars or Gounders.
The region comprises Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Erode, Karur, Namakkal and Salem. While Rahul visited the entire region, EPS has focused only on Coimbatore during his two-day trip.
Interestingly, instead of criticizing the AIADMK government, Rahul chose to attack the Centre and Prime Minister Modi. The latter is often attacked by the Congress leader on issues such as the Tamil language and culture.
“By using Tamil culture and greeting people with ‘vanakkam’, he (Modi) thinks he can control the state government. We have a PM who does not respect Tamil language and culture. He always talks about one culture. What does he mean by one culture? Is Tamil culture not unique?” he asked.
In the first two day of his visit to Coimbatore, Tiruppur and Erode districts, Rahul saw no representatives from his ally DMK. “Why should a DMK leader take part in Congress meetings? These were not alliance party meeting. If we ask for it, they (DMK) will provide some help to us in organizing the events. Other than that, what is the need?” said Congress’ Karur Lok Sabha MP S Jothimani.
When asked whether the recent rivalry involving the two parties in Puducherry was a reason for the DMK not to welcome Rahul, she said there was no such link.
“The nature of Congress alliance with regional parties varies from state to state. In West Bengal, we have allied with the Left and in Kerala, we fight against it,” she said, adding Rahul’s visit has injected a positive wave for the party in the state.
“It has strengthened the bond among all parties of the secular progressive alliance,” she said. To a question as to why Rahul remained quiet on criticizing the AIADMK government, she said Rahul responded to all questions raised by the people. “The people raise questions about the problems they face. He can’t reply a same answer to every question like Modi does. By the way, the visit mainly focused on interaction with the industry representatives. It was not meant to be strictly political”, Jothimani said.
Americai Narayanan, a Congress spokesperson in the state, said Rahul’s visit and EPS campaigning are two different events and that there is no point in finding faults.
“What Rahul achieved was mobilizing public opinion. Even though he speaks in English, the people do connect with him. EPS speaks in Tamil, but is unable to strike a chord,” he said. “Rahl knows the state government is the benami government of the BJP. So, there is no point in criticizing the AIADMK”, he said.
“This is not the government of Jayalalithaa. So, why should one waste one’s time and energy in criticizing EPS or OPS. Rahul has touched on the topic of corruption, and that’s enough,” said Narayanan.