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'What Has Annamalai Done for Us?' Coimbatore Voters Speak Out on BJP's Big Bet

The battle for Coimbatore is one the most watched as the DMK and the AIADMK take on BJP's Annamalai.

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Elections
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Video Editors: Prashant Chauhan, Nitin Bisht

Outside a narrow alley in Coimbatore's New Siddhapudur lies the district Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) office, filled with flags and posters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and state president K Annamalai.

Fifty-year-old Hemalatha, a housewife, is ecstatic as she heads out to campaign for Annamalai – the BJP MP candidate from Coimbatore. Holding a bunch of pamphlets, Hemalatha tells The Quint:

"PM [Narendra] Modi is doing fantastic work at Centre. We watched how Gujarat grew. We want Tamil Nadu to grow the same way. Annamalai ji has come at the right time to fulfill our desires... so we have gotten together to campaign for him."
The battle for Coimbatore is one the most watched as the DMK and the AIADMK take on BJP's Annamalai.

A poster of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai 

(Photo: Varsha Sriram/The Quint)

Around 200 metres from the BJP's office is where this reporter met 62-year-old Pandiaraj, a daily-wage labourer, who says: "The BJP has less well-wishers in Tamil Nadu. People say Annamalai is the right fit. But what has he done for the people of Tamil Nadu? Absolutely nothing..."

Coimbatore, known as the 'Manchester of South India', is an industrial city and hub for Micro Small Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). But this time, it's much more than that.

The battle for Coimbatore will be the most watched in Tamil Nadu as the DMK and the AIADMK – the two well-entrenched Dravidian titans – take on IPS officer-turned-politician and 'Singham Anna' Annamalai.
The battle for Coimbatore is one the most watched as the DMK and the AIADMK take on BJP's Annamalai.

Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai campaigning in Coimbatore ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. 

(Photo: X/@kannamalai)

On 19 April Lok Sabha elections in Coimbatore, Annamalai will take on the DMK’s Ganapathi P Rajkumar and ‘Singai’ G Ramachandran of the AIADMK. Also in the fray is Naam Tamilar Katchi's (NTK) Kalamani Jagannathan.

But why does Coimbatore occupy such a central space in the BJP’s Tamil Nadu push? Will it be able to succeed, or will the two Dravidian parties have the last laugh? The Quint went on ground in the city to find out.

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Why Is Coimbatore at The Centre of BJP's Tamil Nadu Push?

For his first political rally in Tamil Nadu after becoming the Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi chose Coimbatore. For his first political engagement after the Lok Sabha election schedule was announced, Modi once again chose Coimbatore. Over the last three months, Modi has visited the city at least twice.

It was in the backdrop of the 1998 Coimbatore bombings that the BJP won a Lok Sabha seat from here the same year – and again in 1999. Since then, the BJP has tried to make space for itself in an area which has a huge North Indian migrant population.

On 14 February 1998, as then senior BJP leader L K Advani was visiting the town, 12 bombs went off across 11 sites, leaving 58 dead and over 200 injured. Al-Umma, a radical Islamic organisation based in Tamil Nadu, was blamed for the attacks.

Today, Coimbatore is one of the few constituencies in Tamil Nadu where national and state politics intersect. It's also one of the few places that has had a huge presence of right-wing groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Hindu Munnani.

"During the 1998 blasts, 4-5 minority community people gave their lives. It is not about the Hindu-Muslim divide. It's about religious fundamentalism and inclusive Hindutva. t's because of the acceptability and mindset of the people. Here the people are peace-loving and have a nationalistic mindset."
Coimbatore South MLA Vanathi Srinivasan to The Quint
The battle for Coimbatore is one the most watched as the DMK and the AIADMK take on BJP's Annamalai.

In 2019, the CPI(M)’s P R Natarajan won Coimbatore as part of the DMK-led alliance, capturing 45.85% of the vote.

(Photo: Aroop Mishra/The Quint)

In March 2024, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid floral tributes to the blast victims which both the DMK and the AIADMK saw as an attempt to consolidate Hindu voters.

Speaking to The Quint, AIADMK MP candidate Singai G Ramachandran said, "We want to forget that disaster. Why are you (BJP) trying to talk about it? And why have you not done anything about it in the last 33 months, when Mr Annamalai was the BJP state president and PM Modi has visited multiple times? Why at this moment, at this juncture, you are doing this? Election manifesto. They want to divide the people of Coimbatore and they want to win, which will not happen. The people of Coimbatore and Tamil Nadu are very smart and intelligent."

The battle for Coimbatore is one the most watched as the DMK and the AIADMK take on BJP's Annamalai.

The AIADMK hopes to retain its bastion in Coimbatore this time.

(Photo: Varsha Sriram/The Quint)

BJP vs DMK vs AIADMK: A Typical Three-way Fight

With a mix of different population including Gounders and Naickers, Dalits, Thevars, and a sizable number of Muslims, Coimbatore – which falls under the western part of Tamil Nadu – has always remained an AIADMK bastion.

The party-led alliance won all 10 seats in the 2021 Assembly elections that saw the DMK returning to power. However, when it comes to the Lok Sabha elections, Coimbatore has a history of giving an upper hand to the candidates of national parties.

In the past 17 parliamentary elections, victory has predominantly taken the side of the Congress, the BJP, the CPI, or the CPI(M) in the constituency. But this time, Coimbatore is witnessing a three-way battle.

At present, Coimbatore is held by the CPI(M), a member of the DMK-led alliance.

In 2014, the party's nominee CP Radhakrishnan polled nearly 3.90 lakh votes when the BJP contested on its own. In 2019, the CPI(M)’s PR Natarajan won Coimbatore as part of the DMK-led alliance, capturing 45.85% of the vote. The runner-up was the BJP's CP Radhakrishnan, who got 31.47% votes in an AIADMK-led alliance.

The stakes are high for all the three political parties. While the DMK want to prove its mettle in the 'Kongu' belt (Western Tamil Nadu) and the AIADMK wants to retain its bastion, the BJP wants to repeat its feat it achieved 25 years ago in Coimbatore.

For the AIADMK, it is also a prestige battle for its strongman S P Velumani, one of the most powerful figures in the party.

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But can Annamalai deliver to the BJP this time? Can his popularity turn into votes? Will PM Narendra Modi's frequent visits to Coimbatore pay off? Will Coimbatore be the seat through which the BJP enters Tamil Nadu? Only time will tell.

Till then, watch the full video to find out what voters in Coimbatore think.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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