Pennagaram: A tough fight is on the cards in Pennagaram constituency in Dharmapuri district, a stronghold of Vanniyars, the most backward community, in the 16 May Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu.
The seat has assumed star status with AIADMK heavyweight and former Minister K P Munusamy, PMK's Chief Ministerial candidate Anbumani Ramadoss, who is also the sitting Lok Sabha MP from Dharmapuri and locally influential DMK nominee P N P Inbasekaran jumping into the poll fray.
Pennagaram had hit the headlines when DMK fought PMK in the 2010 bypoll to retain the seat after the death of its MLA P N Periannan, who had won in 2006.
Periannan's son P N P Inbasekaran won the 2010 bypoll by 36,384 votes and PMK ended runner-up with other candidates including the AIADMK nominee losing their deposits.
In the 1996 and 2001 Assembly elections, PMK's G K Mani had won. In 2011, N Nanjappan of CPI won as an AIADMK ally.
The poll scenario in this election is more difficult for parties than ever before. Interactions with voters by this correspondent here and in other areas of the constituency including Hogenakkal, Koothapadi, B Agraharam, Ootamalai, Mangapatti, Makkanur and Papparapatti revealed a tough triangular neck to neck fight among DMK, PMK and AIADMK.
In places like Koothapadi and Makkanur, the contest mainly appears to be between PMK and DMK while in other areas like Nayakkanur, the fight seems to be between AIADMK and PMK. In villages like Mangapatti, PMK seems to have an upperhand where DMK and AIADMK are working hard to make a dent.
Clearly, PMK is at the centre of the battle putting up a hard fight against AIADMK and DMK across the constituency. CPI, which is fighting polls as part of the DMDK-PWF-TMC front, does not appear to be in the reckoning.
In places where Vanniyars are a majority or are a sizable chunk like Koothapadi, PMK which is going it alone, is leaving no stone unturned to get their votes in its favour in bulk.
PMK is also trying hard to convince people of other communities to not give yet another opportunity to "corrupt AIADMK and DMK." However, people of other communities, notably Dalits and Muslims, are not convinced.
P A Krishnan, a resident of Papparapatti says, "The fortunes of PMK which is trying very hard to win this seat depends on consolidation of Vanniyar votes and if it can make some inroads into the vote banks of other communities."
Pointing out that all candidates of major parties here were Vanniyars and the race is tough, Krishnan told PTI "whichever party manages to get even a small swing of votes in its favour could be the victor."
He says, "Mudaliyars and Muslims here have traditionally supported DMK."
Vanniyars have voted for all parties, be it PMK, AIADMK and DMK, he says, adding a sizeable chunk of them however chose to throw their weight behind PMK in 2014 Lok Sabha polls in Dharmapuri following "caste tensions."
Caste tensions surfaced and some clashes occurred after a Dalit youth Ilavarasan married a Vanniyar girl. He was subsequently found dead in 2013 in Dharmapuri.
In this constituency of rural and semi-urban areas, an important poll issue is the need to create job opportunities to halt migration of young people in search of jobs. Located in the backyard of Karnataka, many young men and women head to Bengaluru for jobs.
Says V Arul of Pennagaram "to this day young educated people find it difficult to get good employment opportunities here. People go to Hosur, Bengaluru or other places for jobs."
Asked about such job related grievances, PMK candidate Anbumani Ramadoss said, "We will focus on bringing industries here. As part of efforts to generate huge new employment opportunities, we will set up an Small Industries Development Corporation run industrial estate in Pennagaram."
Hogenakkal, famous for its waterfalls, will be developed as an international tourist destination and the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu facility in Nallampalli will be expanded, he said.
DMK candidate Inbasekaran said that as promised in the party manifesto, Hogennakkal Hydro Power Project will be implemented and huge new job opportunities would be created.
"Not only that, we have schemes, including a plan to fill up 16 almost dry lakes with water, thereby providing irrigation facilities in eights panchayats in Pulikarai region. This will generate agricultural job opportunities," he said.
A native of Pennagaram, the DMK nominee is also banking on the image of his father Periannan who had considerable clout in his hey days, besides what his supporters call "strength of party's poll promises" to win over the voters.
AIADMK candidate K P Munusamy said he would give a detailed reply later since he was in the midst of campaign. He was Minister for Municipal Administration till May 2014 and the party named him candidate in Veppanahalli in Krishnagiri District. Later, he was nominated to contest from Pennagaram as the party wanted to put up a "more strong" candidate to take on PMK and DMK here.
Updated Date: May 18, 2016 17:34 PM