The Congress, on the other hand, is hopeful of pocketing the maximum votes of the CSI Christian community.
The role of religious sentiment of the electorate cannot be ruled out as an important factor to decide victory in a close contest at Nanguneri. The Christian population and those belonging to the Ayya cult within the Hindu fold are to be viewed as potentially decisive voters. The two major parties -- the AIADMK and the Congress – are attempting every possible means to appease these religious groups.
The AIADMK hopes its contestant, V Narayanan will have an edge over his Ruby R Manoharan of the Congress as he belongs to the Ayya Vaigundar cult (Ayya Vazhi), popular among the Hindu Nadars in the southern districts. “The very appearance of our candidate, Narayanan, with the “thirunamam” on his forehead brings him close to the Ayya Vazhi makkal, who constitute around 10 percent among the electorate here,” said Balakrishnan, campaign head of Narayanan at Reddiyarpatti village.
Viewed as an intact vote bank unlike the general Hindu voters, the Ayya Vazhi voters are being seen as a tool to take on the Congress that traditionally capitalises on the CSI Christian community since the first election in the constituency in 1952. To ensure the full backing of the Ayya Vazhi voters, the AIADMK ministers have personally met G N Sivachandran, an important leader of the cult in Tirunelveli district. He too has reportedly agreed to instruct his followers to go with the AIADMK in the byelection, according to the AIADMK candidate, Narayanan, who above being a devotee of Ayya
Vazhi, helped construct “Nizhal Thangalgal” (Ayya Vaigundar temple) in Tirunelveli district.
The Congress, on the other hand, is hopeful of pocketing the maximum votes of the CSI Christian community. The Christians were never ranged fully against the AIADMK so long as J. Jayalalithaa was alive. “Our pastorate earlier had not passed a diktat as we feel no conspicuous threat for us till Madam Jayalalithaa was alive,” said a CSI pastorate staff Magimai Rajan. He added, “The present ruling party under chief minister Edappadi Palanisamy and O Panneerselvam joining hands with the BJP is viewed not a so safe party for the Christian community.”
This is the changed sentiment of the general CSI Christian voters, who almost equal the AIADMK supporting Ayya Vazhi voters. The DMK president MK Stalin, who campaigned for the Congress candidate Ruby R Manoharan for three days last week, visited the CSI bishop, J J Christudos and sought his support for the Congress. Agreeing to the request of the DMK and the Congress leaders, the CSI Bishop organised a special prayer for the victory of Ruby R Manoharan.
“This, of course, is a clear message for our people to back Ruby Manoharan,” said the state deputy president of the OBC wing of the Congress, Advocate T Kamaraj.
The Congress also approached the “Pattathu Ayya” (head priest and direct descendant of Ayya Vaigundar) Bala Prajapathi Adigalar at Swamithope in Kanyakumari district and sought his blessings for its candidate. Balaprajapathi Adigalar, considered to be the head of Ayyavazhi cult though close to former chief minister Jayalalithaa, shifted his political view against the AIADMK government after Jayalalithaa’s demise. He severely criticised the functioning of the present AIADMK government and the BJP led Central government at the meetings of the left parties in Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli districts. “This stand of the Adigalar against hardcore Hindutva will help us gain the blessings of Ayya Vaigundar in the form of the votes of his disciples,” says local Congress leaders like Advocate Kamaraj.
The other minor religious groups like the Muslims and the Roman Catholics, who jointly form around 2 percent of the votes in the constituency too are expected to favour the Congress.