Queering the pitch for Prabhu and Natarajan, who are locked in a proxy contest for the state's arch rival fronts led by the ruling DMK and the opposition AIADMK, are the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and DMDK of Tamil cine star Vijayakanth - which is likely to further spilt the votes and damage their winning prospects.
"We are contesting from 12 parliamentary constituencies in this region for all-round development and to safeguard the interests of our backward communities, which have been taken for granted by the two leading fronts over the last three decades," asserted KNMK founder-president E.R. Eswaran, who is in the fray from Coimbatore for the first time.
Though Prabhu and Natarajan dismiss the KNMK as yet another sub-regional outfit playing spoilsport, the huge public response Eswaran got during the fortnight-long campaign across the constituency, especially in semi-urban rural areas, has set alarm bells ringing in the DMK and AIADMK camps.
The party represents the dominant Kongu Vellala Gounder community, which accounts for about 40 percent of the 1.1-million electorate in this constituency."For the DMK and AIADMK, only Chennai matters. Coimbatore and Kongunadu, which contributes about 40 percent of the revenue to the state exchequer, are not a priority for them to develop the region or modernise rural infrastructure to check migration and improve the quality of life in the countryside," Eswaran lamented.
The scorching pace of economic growth across this industrial-cum-farm region over the last decade-and-half has led to steady migration of people and jobs from rural areas to towns and cities like Kovai (Coimbatore), Tirupur, Erode, Salem, Pollachi and Namakal."This one-way movement has led to the neglect of villages and choking of cities like Coimbatore, which is the second largest city in the state after Chennai," pointed out Mahendra Ramdas, president of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Coimbatore chapter.
Failure of successive governments in keeping the infrastructure development pace along with economic or urban growth is causing a digital divide and social tensions due to mismatch of resources."We have prepared a 10-point 'Mission Kovai Vision' with citizens groups for rapid expansion of the city and modernisation of its infrastructure to prevent Coimbatore becoming another Bangalore, which has been hit by crumbling infrastructure and chaotic traffic," Ramdas noted.
Endorsing the industry viewpoint, Eswaran said his party had a 20-point agenda for the development of not just Coimbatore but also other cities, towns and villages across the region to ensure uniform growth."We have realised that we need to be politically empowered to fight for our development needs. It's time for sub-regional parties like KNMK to emerge and fight for their region and its people," Eswaran said.
In spite of shifting from the DMK-led Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA) to the AIADMK in the run-up to the polls, Natarajan is wary of anti-incumbency affecting his chances due to people's anger over chronic power crisis, acute drinking water shortage, economic slump, price rise and job losses in the 'Manchester of South India.'
"It is the DMK and the Congress that will pay a heavy price for having betrayed the people's mandate in 2004 and 2006 (to the state assembly). I also do not see KNMK impacting my prospects as it lacks organisational structure and cadres to woo the electorate to vote for Eswaran from every polling station or booth across the constituency," Natarajan averred.
Though K. Subbarayan of the Communist Party of India (CPI) won the Coimbatore seat in the 2004 elections as part of the DPA, the opposition of the Left parties to the Indo-US civil nuclear pact and economic or market reforms are working against Natarajan, as evident from the discomfort of even the supporting AIADMK cadres and its committed voters.
Though sailing in the same boat, Prabhu, contesting from Coimbatore for the first time after the adjacent Nilgiris constituency, which he represented five times has been declared reserved, remains unfazed by the challenge posed by the KNMK or the formidable AIADMK alliance backing Natarajan. He thinks his record performance and contribution over the last three decades would hold him in good stead.
In this multi-cornered contest that has 25 candidates in the fray, the voting pattern and percentage across the constituency's six assembly segments will determine the outcome and whether Prabhu will be lucky for the sixth time.