Can DMK get a foothold in TN’s Kongu belt via ‘development politics’?

CM Stalin has inaugurated and announced a slew of projects in Coimbatore at a time when the state government is preparing to conduct urban local body polls.

DMK's MK Stalin is going all out to woo people in western Tamil Nadu. (Photo: PTI)

After becoming chief minister of Tamil Nadu, MK Stalin visited Coimbatore for the second time on November 22 and 23. He inaugurated and announced a slew of projects that will give further push to the industrial capital of the state.

These projects include Coimbatore airport expansion costing Rs 1,132 crore, establishment of an Urban Development Authority similar to Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, construction of underground drainage pipelines and setting up of three medical research centres.

Crucially, Stalin has inaugurated the projects at a time when the state government is preparing to conduct urban local body polls.

Considering that the Kongu belt – of which Coimbatore is a part and which comprises districts in western Tamil Nadu – has traditionally been the bastion of rival AIADMK, the DMK is pushing the infrastructure projects to attract voters. But can this developmental push alone make the DMK strong here?

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‘Only development politics wins here’

“Either it is the DMK or AIADMK, as far as the Kongu region is concerned, only ‘development politics’ can have an impact here, rather than caste or language politics. The ‘development politics’ put forth by PM Narendra Modi is the reason why BJP secured the second place in four constituencies here in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections,” said ER Easwaran, chief of Kongunadu Makkal Dediya Katchi (KMDK), an ally of DMK.

After industries, the region’s major occupation is agriculture and people are dependent on borewells. So as an ally of the ruling party, the KMDK constantly pushes the government to take up water-related projects like Pandiyaru Punnampuzha, Nallaru Anaimalaiaru, Mettur surplus water and Thirumanimutharu river rejuvenation schemes.

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“These schemes will bring the agricultural community much closer to the DMK,” Easwaran said.

Many associate the Kongu region only with textiles. But when one goes deeper, one can find many upholstery-related companies. If they want to export their goods abroad, they should first reach the Gulf countries like Dubai and from there they must travel to the European countries. Without expanding the Coimbatore airport, flight services to Dubai cannot come here, Easwaran explained.

Stalin strikes the right chord

The Tamil Nadu DMK government often invited MLAs from rival AIADMK to functions. But the latter chose not to attend. When BJP MLA Vanathi Srinivasan attended one such function, she was warmly welcomed on the stage by CM Stalin.

According to Easwaran, by welcoming Srinivasan on the stage, Stalin has struck a right chord with the people as it is a commonly held belief that the people of Kongu are well-mannered and respect others.

“AIADMK leaders have been following the path of their previous leaders. (Former CM) J Jayalalithaa was not even interested in seeing the DMK leaders, and a similar attitude is being shown by today’s party leaders. But Stalin is more democratic and this earns goodwill among people,” he added.

But how far will all this impact the Kongu Vellalars or Gounders, the dominant community in the region, which has long been attached to the AIADMK?

Talking about why Gounders are attached to the AIADMK, Easwaran explained that they see it as a party which is supportive of spiritualism.

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“People here are building temples worth Rs 20 to 30 crore for their deities. When that is the case, it is normal that people will support the AIADMK. Moreover, it was during the AIADMK regime in the 1980s that the region was given permission to have borewells and given power supply, etc. That attracted voters towards the party,” he added.

DMK needs to develop Gounder leadership

According to Era Murugavel, an author and advocate, the DMK failed to do a course correction on caste lines in this region of Tamil Nadu.

“The Gounders started to make an entry into politics only in the 1980s. At that time, the AIADMK was in power and so the community identified with the party. Moreover, the Mudaliar community, which is dominating the DMK, is not a significant population in the Kongu belt. The DMK has over the years failed to develop a strong leadership among the Gounders as it did with other communities like Ponmudi, who are from the Vanniyar community. That mistake is still affecting the party,” he said.

Murugavel added that it is only now that the DMK has shown interest in developing a Gounder leadership in the form of Karthikeya Sivasenapathy – the party’s Thondamuthur candidate for the 2021 Assembly elections and the environment wing chief. “There is no informed leadership like Sivasenapathy as of now in other parties. He can attract the youth here,” he said.

Murugavel pointed out that schemes like ‘Semmozhi Poonga’ (botanical garden and landscaping) are not needed for Coimbatore, where more and more people are getting displaced due to rampant expansion of the city.

But CR Ramachandran, the DMK’s Coimbatore district secretary, is optimistic about the party’s prospects here, and said that since Stalin is being a “role model chief minister for the whole country, the people of Kongu region too support him”.

“In our party too, we have Gounder leadership. So how can the community not support us? Moreover, Kongu is becoming a cosmopolitan region and caste-based politics is slowly waning away,” he insisted.

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