Perched on a hairpin bend of a Ghat road, surrounded by tea carpets is Kenthala. The small Badaga village is buzzing with activity and a passerby would be forgiven for mistaking that a fair had arrived here instead of the poll campaign making a pitstop for votes. Kenthala’s 250-odd residents have gathered around the bus shelter and are spilling out onto the road that best serves the purpose of an non-existent village square.
The quiet of the hills is interrupted by a cacophony of noises—a voice calls over the microphone urging the “Tamil makkal (children), Nilgiris makkal” to come running, the music blares announcing the rising of the sun (the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam symbol). Yusuf, the ice-cream seller, waits patiently for a break in the music to blow his own horn. Children run around wearing masks of the Kalaignar (M. Karunanidhi, former Tamil Nadu CM) or eat ice-creams while old men wearing red and black mufflers (the party colours) sit around gossiping. The candidate, former Union telecom minister A. Raja, is expected to arrive any moment. Surprisingly, it’s not just the DMK men who have gathered, supporters of the state’s ruling party, the AIADMK, are also there. The Badaga community, which has a sizable population in the Nilgiris, were once staunch supporters of the Congress, but are now divided in their political leanings three ways.