In a first, Ooty constituency will witness a direct fight between the Congress and the BJP. Traditionally a Congress bastion, the seat would see a tough competition this time.
While the Congress has fielded the sitting MLA R Ganesh, the BJP has pitted Hittakkal M Bhojarajan, a former sympathiser of the grand old party, against him after dilly dallying for more than a week.
For Bhojarajan, it’s a golden opportunity to pay back the Congress for denying him a seat 40 years ago after nominating him from the Nilgiris parliamentary constituency for the 1980 Lok Sabha election. He had a disgraceful exit after the Congress replaced him with R Prabhu, who was brought in from Coimbatore, at the eleventh hour. He hasn’t been active in politics since then. He had, however, joined the saffron party in 2014.
A planter from Kotagiri taluk, Bhojarajan was handpicked by the BJP just two days ago to represent the party from Ooty constituency, the most watched out among the three assembly segments in the Nilgiris. He has carved out a niche for himself among the locals with his philanthropy activities over the past 40 years. His close association with the tea industry and involvement to address the plight of small tea farmers and tea factory owners are likely to work to his advantage.
While the BJP had unsuccessfully contested from the Ooty constituency independently in the past two assembly elections, one has to wait and see whether the alliance with the ruling AIADMK would make any difference this time.
Given that the constituency usually favours only candidates from the Badaga community, the BJP seems to have made a wrong pick though. Bhojarajan is the only candidate not representing the Badaga community in the segment.
Both the Amma Makkal Munnettra Kazhagam (AMMK) and the Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) have also fielded their candidates from the constituency, which houses 160 Badaga villages. Like the Congress, they too have put faith in the Badaga community and selected a candidate from the community. As such, Badaga votes are likely to split.
While the AMMK has fielded Denadu T.Lakshmanan, the MNM has roped in Dr S Suresh Babu to contest from the segment.
The Congress-DMK alliance had polled 67,747 votes in the 2016 election, while the BJP could secure only 5,818 votes. It is to be noted that the BJP had polled just 2,716 votes in the 2011 election. However, with the backing of the AIADMK, the BJP might give the Congress-DMK alliance a tough fight this year. While the ruling party enjoys more than 50,000 votes in the constituency, the AMMK is likely to eat into its vote bank.
Ganesh said he was confident of retaining the seat. “I have done many things to the constituency right from renovation of Ooty bus stand to developing a parking lot. I will strive hard to get a minimum support price for green leaf tea for small tea farmers here.”
Key issues that the constituency face include lack of jobs, bad roads and fluctuating tea prices, which has stalled the growth of tea industry. Tourism is the only real job generator. Minimum support price for green leaf tea has been a long pending demand of the small tea farmers here.
Another issue is lack of land regulation rules, as a result of which huge tracts of agricultural land has been converted into real estate. And, most of the areas in Ooty town lack proper drainage system.