Two-time Rajya Sabha member Kanimozhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is hoping to prove that she has popular appeal as she contests her first Lok Sabha election from Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu.

The daughter of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and half-sister of DMK chief MK Stalin, Kanimozhi is pitted against Tamil Nadu Bharatiya Janata Party chief Tamilisai Soundararajan and M Bhuvaneswaran from the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam.

Thoothukudi is considered a safe seat for Kanimozhi. The constituency is dominated by the Nadar community to which Kanimozhi’s mother Rajathi Ammal belongs. The constituency also has a sizeable number of Christians and Muslims.

The BJP’s Soundararajan also belongs to the Nadar community.

Thoothukudi was in the headlines last year when it became the centre of protests against a polluting copper smelter operated by Sterlite. Last May, 13 demonstrators were killed in police firing, after which the plant was shut down. The ruling AIADMK faced severe criticism for its handling of the protest. The BJP, which is contesting the elections in the state with the AIADMK, has largely remained silent about the protests.

Kanimozhi, on the other hand, met with families of the people who died in the police firing. She visited the constituency frequently and attended at least 60 gram sabha meetings there even before her party had nominated her. As a Rajya Sabha member, Kanimozhi adopted Thoothukudi, laying the ground work for her contest in the Lok Sabha elections. The DMK leader also spent a part of her Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme money on work in Thoothukudi.

“I have taken up a house,” she told The News Minute in March, in response to questions about being an outsider. “I will be living here.”

Kanimozhi has gained a foothold in the constituency by campaigning against demonetisation, the Goods and Services Tax, National Eligibility cum Entrance Test that the DMK has promised to scrap if it comes to power, the lack of development in Vilathikulam and Ottapidaram constituencies, and the ruling AIADMK’s poor performance.

Although the anti-Sterlite sentiment may play in Kanimozhi’s favour, the loss of jobs and businesses after the copper smelter closed may help the BJP.

Raids and the 2G case

In the run-up to the elections, Income Tax personnel searched a property in Thoothukudi where Kanimozhi had been staying. The search, however, turned out to be a futile exercise as officials later said it was based on a false tip.

Kanimozhi claimed the BJP wanted to intimidate her and stop elections in Thoothukudi. She also blamed the BJP for carrying out raids to tarnish her party’s image.

The 2G spectrum case is among the scams that led to the massive defeat of the United Progressive Alliance government in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Kanimozhi, one of the key accused in the case, was acquitted by a special court in 2017 due to lack of evidence.

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