In a complex election scenario, full of cliffhanger contests, a new political outfit, Kongunadu Munnetra Peravai, (KMP) has emerged with the hope of mobilizing the Kongu Vellala Gounder community, a dominant votebank in western Tamil Nadu. Launched on December 15 by Gounder industrialists in the region, the KMP has now injected an intriguing “K’ factor into the poll calculations in the Kongu land, a traditional bastion of the AIADMK. The KMP has fielded candidates in 12 constituencies and clearly, its campaign vehicles carrying the “gas cylinder” symbol are the most visible in the rural nooks of Tamil Nadu. However, it is in the de-reserved constituency of Pollachi, the KMP is making big march.
While in the rest of the constituencies in the western region, the KMP will merely play nominal party spoiler, in Pollachi, the party’s leader, Best Ramasamy, a textile mill owner and managing director of Best Group of Companies, is threatening to upset traditional votebank calculations. In Pollachi, Udumalpet and Kinathukadavu falling within the now de-reserved Pollachi constituency, the KMP’s green, yellow and red-coloured flags flutter briskly alongside that of the AIADMK and the DMK. The May Day conference organised by the KMP in Coimbatore drew big crowds and even larger than the rallies of the main parties in Tamil Nadu. In Pollachi, when party chief Best Ramasamy filed his papers too, huge crowds cheered him.
The KMP, much like the Pattali Makkal Katchi which has consolidated the Vanniyar votebank in northern Tamil Nadu, is frenetically campaigning to garner the Gounder community votes, with the key campaign theme of “rights to tap toddy, scrapping of pro-Dalit Protection of Civil Rights Act and continued neglect of Kongu land by successive governments”. Says Best Ramasamy, “The western region contributes about 40% of tax revenue to the State. But what has the State government done to improve the infrastructure in Coimbatore, Pollachi and Udumalpet? We are fighting for the uplift of the region, not for a particular community”. Before taking the political plunge, the KMP leaders met DMK president and chief minister M Karunanidhi and AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa. As the two parties offered them no seats, the KMP decided to enter the fray on its own.
However, political observers say the KMP had been “planted” by the ruling DMK to cut into the Gounder votebank of the AIADMK. The DMK-Congress alliance candidates are also pinning their hopes on the KMP’s inroads. “We are not here to eat into any party’s votebank. We have decided to contest elections only to show our strength.” In coconut land of Pollachi, the KMP has turned its fight for tapping toddy from coconuts and palm trees into a poll issue. For farmers say they will get additional income from toddy sales, while the drinkers will get a healthy brew at a cheap price. And so, the KMP’s battle cry for toddy has struck a chord with farmers and the tippler men.