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Pitching his stake for 10th time, Ponnar takes on Young Turk in Kumari

Udhay’s Sanatana remark has rubbed Hindus the wrong way in this coastal dist

Pitching his stake for 10th time, Ponnar takes on Young Turk in Kumari

Graphical Representation of TN Lok Sabha polls 2024

CHENNAI: In the confluence of three oceans, Kanniyakumari Lok Sabha constituency (formerly Nagercoil), is a diverse battleground than other constituencies in the state. Kanniyakumari is a constituency where national parties are more popular than Dravidian majors.

Former Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan, who is contesting for BJP for the 10th consecutive time in Kanniyakumari, had won as MP from the region twice in 1999 and 2014 is to take on a Congress young turk and an incumbent MP Vijay Vasanth once again.

In a three-corner contest, fishermen issue, illegal quarrying and the rights of plantation workers would play a pivotal role along with religious polarisation and separate religion demand by Ayya Vazhi sect of Hinduism. The Christian fishermen communities along the coast has been a major factor influencing the voting patterns.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, a controversy arose that approximately 50,000 fishermen were deliberately left out from the electoral list and they asserted that their names were struck off the voter list just days before polling day. This controversy had also served to coalesce support against Pon Radhakrishnan. Considering Kanniyakumari’s large coastal population, fishing-related issues such as erratic weather, attack by the Lankan Navy were also raised this time and the fishermen have been seeking a permanent helipad to help with rescue of fishermen during disasters and accidents.

A proposed transshipment container terminal at the historic Colachel port, which was a major factor that led to Pon Radhakrishnan’s defeat in 2019 and 2021 has drawn severe criticism from the local population and they allege the facility will impact their livelihoods and the environment.

The Hindu Nadar, who follow the Ayya Vazhi sect of Hinduism are now posing a new demand of autonomy, following the state government’s HR&CE’s actions of taking over the administration of the major Ayyavazhi temple at Swamithope.

The issues including the Ayyavazhi sect’s demand and the DMK scion Udhayanidhi’s Sanatana Dharma controversy has rubbed Hindus the wrong way and may drive them away from the INDIA bloc alliance, in favour of the BJP. However, a consolidation of Christian and Muslim vote can also be seen.

Also several complaints have arisen about illegal quarrying in the region. BJP candidate Pon Radhakrishnan alleged that illegal quarrying operations have been underway with the collusion of officials and local politicians, including state Minister Mano Thangaraj and other DMK men and the operations have reduced the quality of life of residents living in the vicinity of the quarrying sites.

BJP heavyweights PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah’s recent visit to the constituency will play a role in attracting voters towards the BJP. Former Congress MLA of Vilavancode S Vijayadharani’s jump to the BJP could bring a chunk of Congress voters with her to the saffron party.

Notably, both the BJP and Congress candidates Pon Radhakrishnan and Vijay Vasanth hail from the Hindu Nadar community, which the Congress hopes would work in their favour this time. While Kanniyakumari is a traditional Congress bastion, the BJP has made deep inroads in the constituency.

When the BJP first found its footing in the Kanniyakumari district in 1996, winning an Assembly seat on its own in Padmanabhapuram, it was following extensive grassroots efforts by its parent organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh since the 1980s. Ever since, the Nadar community is said to have been its largest supporter besides its typically upper caste voter base.

Subsequently, the fishermen community and minorities are said to have been Congress and DMK’s largest supporters and they will be the deciding authority when the Nadar votes will divide into two. Even though 22 candidates are in the fray, sitting MP Vijay Vasanth (Congress), won in the 2021 by-elections and Pon Radhakrishnan are the top contenders in the constituency. The AIADMK has fielded Nazerath Pasilian, who jumped ship from DMK just a few months ago and NTK has fielded Maria Jennifer.

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