With the 2019 Lok Sabha polls nearing in, few constituencies will be seeing tall leaders from various parties locking horns to seal the fate of 1.3 billion Indians. Amethi, a bastion of the Congress, will be seeing union minister Smriti Irani crossing swords with Congress chief Rahul Gandhi. Similarly, in Bhopal, BJP might field ex-Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chouhan in a gripping fight against another ex-CM of the state Digvijaya Singh. Recently, it has come to light that Thoothukudi constituency of Tamil Nadu is likely to witness a face-off between two powerful women leaders in the state: DMK MP Kanimozhi and BJP State President Tamilisai Soundararajan.
For this battle, the battleground itself is as important as the two contestants. Thootukudi was the epicenter of Sterlite copper plant protests and as such the repercussions of the protests, closure of the plant and subsequent protests to open it will be seen on this seat in particular. The seat was formed after the delimitation exercise in 2009. And while the DMK and the AIADMK have won the Lok Sabha seat in 2009 and 2014 respectively, the latter won four out of the six seats in the 2016 Assembly Elections. BJP has now allied with AIADMK and will be contesting 5 seats in the state and Thootukudi is a crucial one of them.
Tamilisai Soundararajan is the BJP State President in Tamil Nadu. For Soundararajan, her biggest strength is the incipient hatred by the masses who are suffering because of the closure of the Sterlite copper plant. BJP had taken a firm stand against the closure of the plant during the protests and now that the movement has turned against the closure, BJP is likely to gain. Soundararajan is a non-corrupt leader from the politically important Nadar community which is very influential in the district and that will add strength to her campaign. Moreover, she is planning to concentrate on the development of the region by addressing the drinking water problem and unemployment. Thanks to AIADMK alliance, BJP is also likely to receive a sizeable share of Dravidian votes.
Compared to Soundararajan, Kanimozhi is much more experienced with her 12-year political career, although she will be facing her first direct elections from Thoothukudi. She is the daughter of the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu M. Karunanidhi and currently serves as the Secretary of DMK’s Women’s Wing. Kanimozhi has served in the Rajya Sabha twice and has been spending time in the constituency for some time. The fact that she has taken a house and will be living in Thoothukudi is likely to benefit her in the battle. She had also adopted a village in Thoothukudi during her second term as Rajya Sabha MP. Kanimozhi has big plans for the region as she views it as a development opportunity. Some of the objectives on her agenda include the expansion of the airport and the port and generation of employment. DMK party has also stated in its manifesto that “the meter gauge railway lines in the state would be converted to broad gauge ones”. In an attempt to remove the ‘atheist’ tag of the party, Kanimozhi chose to launch her campaign from the temple town of Tiruchendur, an attempt that would have pleased the Hindu voters. Moreover, her mother belongs to the Nadar community, a prosperous community of traders that holds significant influence. That apart, her biggest support is going to be her dynastic name, the name of her father which the people know and recognize.
For Soundararajan, the biggest disadvantage is her relative inexperience. She has contested 2 assembly elections and parliamentary elections in the past in which she was defeated. That apart, she has a non-dynastic name as her father and uncle were Congress leaders and yet she chose to associate with BJP as the ideology attracted her. She has toiled in the party for 20 years but has not achieved any results.
For Kanimozhi, the weakness is the party’s stance on anti-sterlite. DMK manifesto has hinted that the party will stand by the closure of the plant, going against the popular sentiment. The closing of the plant has lead to huge unemployment issues in the region but DMK hasn’t made any promises regarding it. Most importantly, their take on the Sethusamudram project is going lead to a massive Hindu agitation. Sethusamudram project is proposed to connect Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka and save up on travel time. However, it will lead to a demolishing of the Rama Sethu which is viewed as the remains of a bridge created by Lord Rama. This is a direct attack on Hinduism and with DMK’s ‘atheist’ beliefs, will be viewed as a threat to the religious and cultural identity of the people. Moreover, there is mass opposition by the fishermen, which comprise of 15 percent in Thoothukudi constituency as they fear their livelihood will be completely wiped out if the Sethusamudram project is implemented. DMK is also facing the wrath of the coastal community as they are protesting against the DMK promise to create a second rocket launch pad of ISRO. The current issues aside, the past of DMK’s scams and family feuds, including the perpetrator of the largest political corruption case, the 2G scam, are other factors.
Soundararajan, by winning the battle against Kanimozhi can prove her potential. She is being given a tremendous opportunity to form her own individual identity in the state. Establishing BJP’s entry in Tamil Nadu will ensure personal rise for Soundararajan as the giant killer one who defeated a dynast. It will also put BJP on a sound footing in the South, where they are relatively less popular.
For Kanimozhi, the battle is for prestige as this would mark the debut of her electoral politics for the first time. She has been nurturing the district for quite some time and being the daughter of the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu M. Karunanidhi, now is her opportunity to prove her worth.
Soundararajan is in a very fragile position as she is being given the BJP trust after 3 consecutive losses. Out of the 5 seats that have in Tamil Nadu, she is being given one of them solely because of her potential. A loss in such a situation will ensure political oblivion for losing in 4 consecutive elections and not being elected once in her entire career. Personal prestige aside, the loss will cause a significant dent to BJP’s future in Tamil Nadu.
Kanimozhi has a lot to save than just her party’s seat. Being the daughter of the former chief minister, she already has high expectations riding on her. A loss against relatively inexperienced BJP candidate would nip her electoral politics career in the bud.
The battle in Thoothukudi is going to be a healthy competition between two women. Each has her own strengths and weaknesses. It is for the voters to decide if their choice is going to be an established dynast name with experience or a relatively new entrant with significant plans for the region. However, aside from the competition, one thing is established that the polling this time is definitely paving way for women empowerment.