Swing Vote: Salem’s Vanniyars are its Germans

Let’s consider the Salem Lok Sabha Constituency in Tamil Nadu. The four major contestants are: V Panneerselvam from the AIADMK, S Umarani from the DMK, LK Sudheesh from the DMDK and Mohan Kumaramangalam from the INC. Of the four, two of them have family ties that largely explain their ticket to contest from their respective parties. LK Sudheesh is the brother-in-law of DMDK’s President, Vijayakanth. Mohan Kumaramangalam is the fourth generation politician from the Kumaramangalam dynasty.

Given the increasingly prominent role of Premalatha Vijayakanth in the DMDK at the expense and exit of the party’s founding mentor Panrutti Ramachandran, LK Sudheesh’s candidature is a strong one at least as far as the DMDK is concerned. He has also co-produced many of Vijayakanth’s movies in the last decade implying a degree of economic inter-dependence extending beyond family ties. So it’s reasonable to expect the party to spend a disproportionate degree of its resources in Salem.  LK Sudheesh has also come up with a manifesto of sorts for Salem. The the 33 point-plan reads more like that of someone contesting for the City’s Mayor than that of someone contesting to be a national law maker. It includes garbage disposal plans for Salem, railway lines running through Salem, flyovers, over-bridges, under-bridges and every other form of pork barrel promise that’s conceivable.

Mohan Kumaramangalam is a true local dynast who grew up elsewhere. His great grandfather, P Subbarayan, was a Zamindar and lawyer from nearby Thirechengode. Subbarayan was Madras Presidency’s Chief Minister in the 1920s. His grand father, also Mohan Kumaramangalam, was a Communist and later a member of the Congress Party and Indira Gandhi’s cabinet. His grand aunt, Parvathi krishnan, was a Communist leader and MP of some repute and enormous charm. His father, of more recent vintage and in living memory, was the former Power Minister who died in office. With all this though, what Mohan Kumaramangalam’s pitch to Salem is unclear. He has degrees from a couple of American Universities. His local pamphlets don’t read like a Mayor’s manifesto as in the case of his DMDK opponent. He is one quarter Gounder, the local land/industry owning caste, if that’s of any significance in Salem. So far, he seems earnest on the Internet and seems like one of us — a Macaulay’s child who wants to dabble in a few things.

AIADMK’s V Panneerselvam is an odd choice. The sitting MP from Salem, the veteran AIADMK leader S Semmalai has been denied a ticket. Semmalai, another Gounder leader, has a following of his own and he proved that to no less a person than MGR when the latter denied him a ticket in 1980; Semmalai contested as an independent and won. Of course this is 34 years later and whether that’d affect a rather nondescript V Panneerselvam in unknown at this point. Semmalai isn’t contesting this time and doesn’t seem to be implicitly supporting anyone either. The DMK has fielded S Umarani, one of the very few women contesting in Tamil Nadu. Both the candidates from the major Dravidian parties — V Pannerselvam and S Umarani — have almost no presence on the Internet. That must be reason enough to suggest these two are possibly the front runners.

While Kumaramangalam is a true political lightweight, DMDK’s LK Sudheesh isn’t. But the biggest problem Sudheesh faces is that the Salem constituency was originally allotted to the PMK in the NDA alliance but was taken away from them and handed to the DMDK. The two parties, DMDK and PMK, are natural opponents in the region and a voter for one party is highly unlikely to vote for the other; especially when there is bitterness of this sort. The internal alliance conflict of the NDA is possibly most visible in Salem. So, if the Vanniyar votebank of the PMK is a real thing, it’s likely to consolidate behind either of Dravidian parties. That may prove to be the differentiating factor. Whether the AIADMK knew this and therefore took a chance with Semmalai will make for interesting gossip.

So let’s assume between the DMDK, INC and independents, about 40% of the votes get spent. If that is so, the AIADMK and DMK have a contest within a universe of the remaining 60% vote share. Salem has 11.7 lakh voters and that makes the main contest restricted to just over 7 lakhs. It’s reasonable to assume anyone who gets about 3.5 lakh votes will win. If we therefore plug this N in our earlier calculation to be 3.5 lakhs, the probability of each voter impacting the election comes to e^(-292). However, if the Vanniyars vote as a block and are really the swing vote in the above scenario — their localised N maybe as low as 1 lakh — the impact of each Vanniyar vote goes up to e^(-157). That’s almost as high as that of a citizen in a constituency in Germany.

3 thoughts on “Swing Vote: Salem’s Vanniyars are its Germans

  1. Thennarasu

    //The sitting MP from Salem, the veteran AIADMK leader S Semmalai has been denied a ticket. Semmalai, another Gounder leader// Semmalai belongs to Vanniyar Community (Vanniya gounder) not Kongu vellala gounder.

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