The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate for Nagercoil legislative assembly segment is M R Gandhi. He is a well-known face in Kanyakumari district.
In 1967, he was the district president of Jan Sangh and in 1975 he was the state secretary of the party. He fought for democracy against the near-fascist Emergency imposed by the Congress.
In 1975, he was in jail for a year under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA).
Then, he has been the state general secretary of the party and is now a national council member.
Cutting across party lines, anyone can reach out to him for any humanitarian help and he would be in the field helping those in need.
Resonating with his name, M R Gandhi displays the Gandhian simplicity. His accessibility, simplicity and non-sectarian approach to polity have earned him goodwill and admiration from all sections of the society.
And then, there is the communalism that is endemic to this district.
Kanyakumari district has been a hot bed of communal conflicts for two centuries and a half. Christian missions have been working to convert Kanyakumari into a Christian district.
Of late, there has been an increased activity of pan-Islamist forces.
What distinguishes this district is the fact that despite any systemic support and even lack of sympathy from the post-independent Indian state as well as the pre-C P Ramaswamy Iyer Travancore State, Hindus have been offering tough resistance. This was aided in the post-independence period only by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Sangh parivar organisations.
This has led to a considerable Hindu consolidation, though the Christian institutional stranglehold on polity is severe. None other than K Kamaraj, the tallest Congress leader from the state and freedom struggle veteran, had to face the communal wrath from Christian quarters when he stood for the elections from here.
M R Gandhi is also a swayamsevak from early days.
His participation in Hindu Sangathan movement in the district is well known. But what is equally well known is the fact that any non-Hindu can approach him for any humanitarian assistance.
The goodwill he has among the non-Hindus in the district is amazing. It is indeed a testimony to the fact that his politics is not communal and his fight against the institutionalised and power-entrenched communal forces in the district is in fact a fight for secularism.
M R Gandhi had contested elections before and the communal forces in the district always go into over-drive when he stands for an election. His appeal with all sections of the society alarms these forces.
They at once tap into a manufactured fear psychosis and appeal to the religious fanaticism of their congregations.
In Kanyakumari district, not a day passes without a Hindu right to worship getting violated in some village. The clout of church as well as that of evangelist groups often place Hindus at the receiving end of the authorities who often take a stand against Hindus, compelling them to be humiliated before the aggressors.
This stand is euphemistically called 'communal harmony' in the district.
However, the presence of M R Gandhi there would change the dynamics. He would forcefully argue the case of the Hindu victims and make sure that proper legal measures are taken and Hindu rights are protected.
Naturally, the anti-Hindu forces fear him but ordinary citizens admire him, irrespective of the party and religious affiliations.
But that does not stop murderous attacks being planned against him. Death threats and violent attempts on his life are not new to M R Gandhi.
He escaped the attacks of the fanatics several times during the Mandaikadu Christian attacks on Hindus and even afterwards.
On 17 December 2006, when he was returning from a coastal village after a meeting at night, he was attacked by a mob of Islamists, who threatened to burn him alive.
On 26 April 2013, he was attacked when he was on his morning walk.
Subsequent arrests showed that the attack had been planned by a network spanning Tamil Nadu: K Mohammed Salin of the banned Al Umma group was from Melapalayam in Tirunelveli district; Brabu alias Hamsa (25) was from Elankadai near Nagercoil and Abdul Sameemwas Thiruvithancode in Chennai.
In the 2016 assembly election, M R Gandhi contested from Nagercoil as well. He was defeated by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK’s) Suresh Rajan with a margin of almost 21,000 votes.
But then, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) had stood separately and had gained 45,000 votes.
So, the straight-forward calculations indicate that the anti-DMK votes in the constituency are considerably more than what the DMK candidate got in the last election and double the size of his victory margin. So it should be a cakewalk for M R Gandhi now.
This time, the battle ground is charged like never before.
The anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) movement has been spearheaded by Islamist organisations in the district.
The anti-development movement has been coordinated and launched with key Christian evangelist and church leaders arousing their congregation herds with alarmist and doomsday scenarios. They both have a common agenda at broader and local levels.
At the broader level, they want to stop India from progressing and at local level they want a broad coalition against the local Hindu community. So, the battle ground is going to get hotter and hotter.
And M R Gandhi is a person who chooses to fight at the heart of the furnace. Last elections saw the political enemies of M R Gandhi stooping to the level of using a whisper campaign against him on caste lines.
However, the alliance dynamics and the ground level enthusiasm from ordinary citizens seems to favour M R Gandhi. There is a deep dissatisfaction with the current DMK MLA who has often come across as inaccessible, arrogant and partisan.
Nagercoil constituency needs an able, welfare-oriented MLA and M R Gandhi seems all set to answer that need.
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