The total electorate in Vikravandi is now 2,23,456, with men voters slightly outnumbering women.
Tucked away in a corner of Villupuram district which continues to lead in sugarcane production in Tamil Nadu (annual production of over 58 lakh tonnes for the district is the last cited figure in Tamil Nadu Agricultural University website), and home to at least eight sugar factories, Vikravandi pops up images of green, robust sugarcane shoots despite pain of mounting cane dues to farmers.
More than the sugarcane economy being in tatters in the district, it is the caste factor that prompts the main opposition DMK to walk the extra mile for the October 21 Assembly by-election from Vikravandi, caused by the death of the incumbent DMK MLA, K Radhamani in June last.
The Vikravandi Assembly segment itself is a fairly recent creation, carved out in the Constituency delimitation exercise carried out in 2007 and being a part of Villupuram taluk, it is a segment of Villupuram Lok Sabha constituency. Vikravandi sent its first direct representative to the Assembly, first in the 2011 general elections, when the CPI(M) candidate R. Ramamurthy, as part of AIADMK-led alliance, romped home with the backing of agriculture workers, largely Dalits.
Its economic base today is a far cry from its romantically swaying sugarcane stalks with the district vying to take the lead in medical and legal services. The 2016 Assembly elections witnessed DMK’s K. Radhamani defeating his main AIADMK rival, R. Velu, by a slender margin of 6,912 votes. The OBC Vanniyars-based Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) going it alone in that poll, projecting Dr Anbumani Ramadoss as their Chief Ministerial candidate, had polled 41,428 votes, indicating a peak in caste consolidation of the ‘Vanniyars’ there.
In fact, the CPI(M) going with the fourth main front in the 2016 polls (Makkal Nala Kootani that had pinned its hopes on DMDK chief, Captain Vijayakanth as their leader) had cut into the AIADMK’s votes in Vikravandi and DMK emerged winner.
The PMK is now part of the AIADMK-led alliance, for which the BJP expressed its support in both the by-polls rather late as the saffron party was busy seeking more powerful symbolisms in the run-up to the Modi-Xi Jinping informal summit at Mamallapuram. As both the PMK founder Dr S Ramadoss and his son Dr Anbumani Ramadoss are keen to consolidate its base in Vikravandi, the caste factor has sharpened even more, say political observers.
The total electorate in Vikravandi is now 2,23,456, with men voters slightly outnumbering women. And with PMK having a good share of the cake, not surprisingly both the main political rivals, DMK and AIADMK, in a bid to woo the Vanniyar votes, have fielded candidates from that community in N. Pugazhendhi and R. Muthamizhselvan respectively.
For the DMK, it is a more a prestige battle as the party leader M K Stalin is leaving no stone unturned with help of Dr. K. Ponmudi to retain the Vikravandi seat. Sensing the importance of the Vanniyar votes, Stalin has offered a sub-quota for the Vanniyars alone, out of the 20 per cent quota earmarked for MBCs in Tamil Nadu which has so far included Vanniyars and 108 other smaller groups, once DMK was returned to power at Fort St. George.
Stalin’s announcement before setting off for the Vikravandi campaign drew political flak, with his critics lashing out at DMK’s bid to play caste politics. The PMK itself though wanting a separate sub-quota for the Vanniyars, had not been making it an explicit part of their political narrative in recent elections.
However, PMK’s youth wing leader, Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, hoping for a ministerial berth in the Narendra Modi-led BJP government, is aggressively pushing for consolidation of the Vanniyar votes under the PMK, a goal that is still eluding it. Even at a recent function to honour the memory of late Vanniyar Sangam president Kaduvetti Guru, he was aghast that the DMK continued to hold sway over the Vanniyars, as borne out even in the latest Vellore LS poll.
For the ruling AIADMK on the other hand, driven by the energy of its Chief Minister, Edappadi K Palaniswami, with his new profile as an FDI-pulling globe trotter, and the political clout of its Law Minister C. Ve. Shanmugham, who hails from Villupuram, the challenge is to make its chemistry with the PMK work, more so when the ruling party is now in a mood to face the Local Bodies elections.