Theni is essentially witnessing a three-cornered fight. The main contenders are: AIADMK's OP Raveendranath, son of deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam. TTV Dhinakaran's AMMK has fielded Thanga Tamilselvan. And the third candidate is Congress's EVKS Elangovan, the former president of the Tamil Nadu Congress, and also the grandnephew of Dravidian pitamah EVR Periyar.
Theni, in Tamil, means bee. The hilly, sylvan surroundings of the Theni constituency in Tamil Nadu is buzzing like a hornet's nest as it is witnessing one of the high-profile contests this Lok Sabha election. That Prime Minister Narendra Modi today addressed an election meeting from this picturesque place, perched on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border, conveys the importance it holds in the scheme of things.
Theni is essentially witnessing a three-cornered fight. The main contenders are: AIADMK's OP Raveendranath, son of deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam (fondly known as OPS). TTV Dhinakaran's AMMK has fielded Thanga Tamilselvan, a man who famously gave up his MLA seat from Andipatti Assembly constituency (which falls in this Lok Sabha constituency) to enable J Jayalalithaa to contest after a ban on her candidature was lifted. And the third candidate is Congress's EVKS Elangovan, the former president of the Tamil Nadu Congress, and also the grandnephew of Dravidian pitamah EVR Periyar.
It is a heavyweight clash with all the three having a point to prove.
For Raveendranath, this is his electoral debut and he is naturally keen to make a winning start. This being OPS's pocket borough of sorts, he too would be anxious to cement his stature in the party and also make things easy for his son's rise. A loss to him will make OPS's hand weak in the party. But Modi's campaign in Theni would brighten his son's chances.
Thanga Tamilselvan, who is projecting himself to be 'Amma's' blue-eyed person as he vacated the Andipatti seat for her re-election (this constituency was also AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran's chosen one), is hoping to make an indelible mark for the AMMK. This seat holds a lot of significance as a win here would mean that people have accepted AMMK's claim for Jayalalithaa's legacy.
Elangovan's fight from here is a bit of surprise, as he comes from the Erode belt. This place is far removed from western Tamilnadu's business town. Yet, he has had to contest from here because of alliance compulsions and political realities.
Theni is dominated by Mukkulathors (collectively known as Thevars, a dominant caste group in Tamil Nadu), and Raveendranath and Thanga Tamilselvan belong to this group (though they are of different sub-castes). Elangovan may be hoping that the possible split in Mukkulathor votes may help him.
But Raveendranath says there won't be any split in their vote bank, and the traditional AIADMK voters are behind his candidature. He has been harping on the fact that his dad OPS was the one that Jayalalithaa trusted the most as he was made the chief minister whenever she was unable to occupy the chair (due to cases or health reasons).
Theni is a relatively new constituency. It came in place of Periyakulam constituency during the delimitation exercise of 2008. It has so far sent two MPs - one Congress and one AIADMK.
But without a doubt, the area is AIADMK's stronghold right from MGR's days, and this is the confidence that Raveendranath is riding on. But Thanga Tamilselvan has also been running a spirited campaign, and does not seem overawed by the rivals or the occasion.
Elangovan certainly looks out of place as he is surely an outsider, but he is banking on the Naicker votes (another caste group) to bail him out. But he is hamstrung by the fact that workers of Congress's ally are not cooperating much. The local Congressmen here allege that the DMK has been less than keen on backing him.
The infrastructure issues, water scarcity, farming crisis in the area do find a mention in the candidates' speeches, but clearly the calculations are on caste and community matrix.
Not to forget, money is also playing an important role, and the locals talk of how all the three candidates are spending on a major scale.
Theni on the whole promises --- both literal and metaphorical --- uphill climb for the three main contenders.
Regardless of who wins, the winner would have made a huge political point for himself and his party.
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Last Updated 16, Apr 2019, 10:27 AM