In the midst of the textile city witnessing closure of industries and mills, the BJP, which romped home in the backdrop of the serial bomb blasts in 1998 and 1999, is leaving no stone unturned to retain the Coimbatore Lok Sabha seat.
The campaign by BJP and its main rival CPI mainly revolve around the closure of a large number of textile mills in and around the city, problems faced by small and tiny industries and unemployment. Drought and water crisis are the other issues.
While BJP candidate CP Radhakrishnan, seeking a third term in a row, is "cautioning" the electorate on the fate of industries and labour unrest, if the Left parties are elected, CPI candidate, K Subbarayan blames the economic and EXIM policies of the NDA government for the industrial crisis.
Victory from this constituency is a prestige issue for the BJP, since it has fielded its State president, who, in alliance with AIADMK, won by a margin of 1.5 lakh votes over his DMK rival in 1998. He again won in 1999 with the support of DMK, but with a reduced margin of 55,000 votes against CPI State secretary, R Nallakkannu.
With the combination taking a turnaround, the BJP, devoid of any communal card, now solely depends on its "charismatic" Prime Minister, AB Vajpayee and the development plank, as most of the over 15 lakh electorate appear to be "displeased" with the three-year rule of AIADMK.
Both Radhakrishnan and Subbarayan, a former MLA, hail from nearby Tirupur, which have 4.5 lakh voters, a majority of whom are directly or indirectly involved in the hosiery and knitwear industry.
There are six assembly segments in the constituency. Singanallur (3.63 lakh), Coimbatore West (1.4 lakh), Coimbatore East (1.5 lakh), Perur (3.07 lakh), Palladam (2.4 lakh) and Tirupur (4.5 lakh). The CPI and Congress have three MLAs, while the remaining seats are held by ruling AIADMK.
Voters in five constituencies, barring Tirupur, are almost equally "committed" to the respective major parties like DMK, AIADMK, Congress and Left parties. The candidates pin their hopes on garnering as many votes as possible from Tirupur.
With industrialists and workers in equal numbers, voters in this constituency will play a crucial role in deciding the fate of the aspirants.
There is widespread displeasure among voters towards the ruling AIADMK for its "failure" to take steps to solve the acute drinking water problem and provide relief to drought affected areas in various parts of Coimbatore district.
A clear indication of what is in store can be gauged by the taking to task of the ruling party MLA, representing Perur constituency, by the residents over the water crisis when he approached them, seeking votes for Radhakrishnan.
Though star campaigners like Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani, Venkaiah Naidu, actress Vijayshanthi and AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa undertook whirlwind tours of the constituency, they could not make any lasting impact on the voters.
On the other hand, opposition stalwarts like DMK chief Karunanidhi and MDMK General Secretary Vaiko have managed to attract large crowds, indicating a "favourable" situation for the Democratic Progressive Alliance candidate, Subbarayan.
Moreover, almost all trade unions, with their large workforce, have put their lot behind Subbarayan and are working overtime for his success in the industrial belts of Tirupur and Coimbatore.
Parvathi Krishnan of CPI had won the seat in 1957 and 1977, PR Ramakrishnan of Congress in 1962, K Raman of CPI (M) in 1967, K Baladandayutham of CPI in 1971, while DMK wrested the seat in 1980.
CK Kuppuswamy of Congress, who joined the AIADMK recently, had won in 1984, 1989 and 1991, whereas DMK's Ramanathan wrested the constituency in 1996.
Ironically, the major ally in NDA, AIADMK did not contest any Parliamentary elections from this constituency.
The DMK-BJP alliance had secured 49.1 per cent of votes, while AIADMK-CPI-TMC-CPIM combine 43.1 per cent votes in the 1999 general elections. However, the situation saw a reversal in the 2001 assembly elections, when AIADMK got 54.6 per cent votes as against 37.4 per cent secured by DMK combine.
With the blasts being carried out by the now banned Al-Umma, an Islamic fundamentalist organisation, during the visit of Advani, the constituency was in the grip of communal tension, resulting in the victory of BJP in 1998.
With the city back to normalcy after the communal tension, the BJP is hardpressed and devoid of any communal card to woo the majority community voters this time.
Another disadvantage being witnessed in the BJP camp is the "lukewarm" response from cadres in campaigning, following the reported differences of opinion among party leaders in choosing the alliance partner.
Though majority of the Muslim population, particularly in the city pockets, discarded the DMK when it allied with BJP in 1999, they have returned to its fold now, giving an added advantage to DPA.
A section of Muslim voters, who stood by the AIADMK during testing times, are also now gradually turning their backs, opposing the anti-conversion bill and Jayalalithaa's remarks on the construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya.
Remaining on a wicket laid with anti-incumbency factor and wider polarisation of voters and the outfield being slow with industrial recession, it remains to be seen whether the BJP will be able to perform a hattrick.