Tirunelveli, May 5 : In this caste hotbed of Tamil Nadu, comprising 11 Assembly constituencies, a fierce contest is on between the AIADMK-front and the DMK-led Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA), with the ruling party trying its utmost to retain its bastion.
Situated on the southern tip of the state, with only Kanniyakumari further down, this backward and predominantly agrarian district stretches from the Western Ghats to the Indian Ocean.
The caste factor plays a decisive role in electoral politics in the district, which is dominated by the trading Nadar community, followed by Thevars, Dalits and Pillaimars.
A traditional stronghold of the ruling AIADMK, the rural areas are still under the spell of MGR magic, working to the party's advantage.
In the 2001 Assembly election, the AIADMK asserted its supremacy by winning nine seats in this highly volatile district, which saw many a caste clash in the past.
According to local people, the absence of communal and caste clashes, particularly between Thevars and Dalits, in the past five years is a major positive for the Jayalalithaa camp.
Despite this plus point, the poll will not be a cakewalk for the AIADMK as it is fighting the strong alliance arithmetic of the DMK.
The presence of the Congress and Left parties, which do have a considerable vote base here, in the DMK front, may well prove the nemesis for the AIADMK in a few places.
Incidentally, Tirunelveli is the native district of MDMK General Secretary Vaiko, the star campaigner of the AIADMK front, whose Kalingapatti village comes under the Sankarankovil constituency.
Even as the ruling party is striving to tighten its grip on the district, the opposition front is going all out to wrest the seats, leading to a high voltage election campaign.
It is a point of debate in the area, whether the entry into the AIADMK of film actor Sarathkumar, a Nadar himself and popular among that community, can swing votes for the party.
In contrast might be the negative effect of the alleged ill treatment of actor and All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) State President M Karthik by AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa. The considerable number of AIFB followers in the district expressed anger over this.
As the Forward Bloc is dominated by Thevar community, the traditional supporters of the AIADMK, the ruling party functionaries themselves admit in private that the 'Amma's failure' to accommodate the AIFB in the alliance is a major setback to the party in southern districts.
State Industries Minister Nainar Nagendran is seeking re-election in Tirunelveli constituency where he is pitted against DMK nominee N Malairaja. The contest is intense with both the candidates belonging to the Thevar community. Banking on various developmental works undertaken by him in the constituency, the Minister, who won the election last time by a narrow margin of 722 votes.
However, the Opposition point out that Mr Nagendran was unable to bring any industry to the constituency, despite holding the portfolio for nearly four years.
In the reserved constituency of Sankarankovil, Adi Dravidar Welfare Minister S Karuppusamy is facing a tough challenge from former DMK Minister S Thangavelu.
Though the constituency comprised a good number of MGR loyalists, the going is not easy for Mr Karuppusami, who himself an ardent MGR fan.
In a surprise move, the AIFB, which had never contested in a reserved constituency before, has fielded a scavenger woman in Sankarankovil, which is expected to cut into the AIADMK vote base.
Subbulakshmi, belonging to the Arundhathiyar community, the lowliest of the lowly among Dalits, has been embraced with open arms by the Thevar community, making things difficult for the AIADMK Minister.
Cheranmahadevi is an interesting constituency, which is under the hold of a single family for nearly three decades. Former Assembly Speaker P H Pandian and his son Manoj Pandian have virtually converted the constituency into a fortress of the AIADMK.
While Mr Pandian was elected from here on four occasions -- 1977, 1980, 1984 and 1989, the junior made his successful debut in the 2001 Assembly election.
Mr Manoj Pandian, who has been re-nominated, will take on Congress candidate P Veldurai, who defeated his father in 1996 polls, when the former Speaker contested the election as an Independent for the second time. The AIFB candidate Paramasivan may split the traditional AIADMK votes as he enjoys good support among the youngsters of Thevar community, which has a significant presence in the constituency.
Both the DMK and the AIADMK fronts have fielded Muslim candidates in Palayamkottai, which has a big majority of Muslims. Melapalayam, which falls under the constituency, is fully inhabitated by Muslims.
While the DMK has re-nominated its sitting MLA Mohideen Khan, the AIADMK has allotted the seat to the Indian National League(INL) to divide the community vote.
Ms Poongothai Aruna, the daughter of slain ex-DMK Minister Aladi Aruna, is contesting the election on the DMK ticket in Alangalum. A doctor by profession, practising in Chennai, she is locking horns with AIADMK candidate M Pandiaraj, a local resident.
In Radhapuram constituency, a pocketborough of the Congress, DMK candidate Appavu is fighting against an AIADMK nominee. Appavu, who was elected as the candidate of the erstwhile Tamil Maanila Congress(TMC) in 1996 election, successfully contested as an Independent in 2001, after he was denied party ticket. Recently, he joined the DMK.
Raising a banner of revolt against the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee(TNCC) for failing to secure the Congress citadel from the DMK, the local functionaries have fielded a rebel candidate as an Independent posing a serious challenge to the DMK nominee.
Though local issues do figure in the high voltage campaign in the district, caste seemed to the main poll plank of the politial parties. For the AIADMK, it is a do-or-die battle to retain its bastion as southern districts have always played a crucial role in taking the party to power.