Nagercoil: A group of people await BJP leader Pon Radhakrishnan in front of the Mandaykkad Bhagawati Temple in Nagercoil. None of them have bothered to wear a mask though, apparently not perturbed by the threat of COVID-19, which claimed the life of sitting MP H Vasantha Kumar and necessitated a byelection in the Kanyakumari constituency.
To be fair, some of the workers have masks hanging below their chins. “You all may be educated in Kerala. Here not so much,” Tamil Manila Congress state secretary Charles tried to explain the risky behaviour.
The byelection is crucial for the Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP and Radhakrishnan, who is likely to be inducted into the Union cabinet if he wins Kanyakumari. He has contested from the constituency eight times and won twice. Whenever he won, he went on to become a Union minister of state – he has worked in the finance, shipping and highways ministries under Atal Behari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi. In 2019, he lost to Congress’s Vasantha Kumar by about 2.5 lakh votes.
Radhakrishnan would be the sole representative of the BJP in Tamil Nadu if he wins the by-election. BJP president Amit Shah has announced in Kanyakumari that Radhakrishnan would be a Union minister if elected.
The National Democratic Alliance, which also includes the ruling AIADMK, has focused its campaign strategy on the promise – If Radhakrishnan wins, you have a minister. Otherwise you get just an MP. You decide.
Radhakrishnan got out of the temple after an offering, with vermilion sprinkled over his entire head. He is wearing half a dozen ritualistic threads on his wrist. His supporters greet him with gloating promises of a victory, without regard to ground realities.
The Congress has picked Vijay Vasanth to defend his late father’s seat. He is the heir to Vasant & Co, the home appliance chain with an annual turnover of Rs 2000 crore. Vasantha Kumar had declared personal assets of Rs 432 crore.
Vijay Vasanth has stepped into his father’s shoes, complete with the all-white look. The young industrialist who also dabbled in movies has promised to rest his acting career if elected as a people’s representative.
Vasantha Kumar’s goodwill in the constituency is an asset to the Congress. The former MP was actively supporting the people in the constituency since COVID-19 spread all over the country. His charity work that eventually exposed him to the virus could create a sympathy wave to favour his son, the Congress expects.
The retail magnate is an apt candidate moneywise too. His BJP rival also has deep pockets to tap into.
Radhakrishnan could not help mention the Sabarimala agitation while at the Kerala border. He said that he would be at the forefront of any struggles to protect customs. “I am an Ayyappa devotee, like everyone in my family. My father even changed his name to Ponnai Ayyappan. Sabarimala is not only a temple of the people of Kerala. It is ours too. We will protect customs if the communist government tries to tamper with them for political reasons,” he said.