If you didn't know Bunty Singh is a Punjabi who's lived his life in
Kochi, you could fall off your chair hearing him speak Malayalam. In the
automobile business, they know him as Mallu Singh. "Customers who hear
my Malayalam suspect I'm a Malayali who wears a beard and a turban for
fun,'' says the 35-year-old whose family migrated from Punjab to Kochi
Kerala has about 50 Sikh families, which makes them a
bit of a cultural oddity. But thanks to the Malayalam blockbuster
Punjabi House, set in a north Indian household , they now occupy
mainstream mind space.
Linguistic minorities in Kerala and TN,
though a small subset in the overall universe of voters, are indicative
of the mix that politicians must tap. In both Kerala and TN, Punjabis,
Gujaratis, Bengalis and Sindhis look at polls as an opportunity to
negotiate with candidates for local development . Generally, they keep
off local politics, unless an issue that relates to them crops up.
"We want better infrastructure in the city. National issues get less
priority,'' says Sunil Lalwani, leader of the Sindhi community, about 50
of them live in Kochi. H S Ananth, secretary of Chennai's T Nagar
gurdwara says: "Most of us decide on the basis of the candidate more
than the party."
North Indians have been migrating south since
the 19th century when the Madras Presidency was a centre of trade.
Chennai's Rajasthani community traces its origins nearly 100 years back.
"Generally they vote for the national parties. But those
who've been here for more than 25 years vote for state parties,"
Rajasthan Youth Association convener Sanjay Bhansali says. The mood this
time favours the local BJP-led regional front.
Gujaratis — 780 families in Kochi, 275 in Kozhikode and less than 10 in
Thiruvananthapuram — don't like to discuss political affiliations . "We
maintain close contact with Malayalis, but refrain from political
commitments unless the issue hits us directly, like taxation. Our
priority is business,'' says Chetan D Shah, secretary of Sri Kochi
Still, they praise Kerala for its law
enforcement record and disciplined citizenry. "If you lose a mobile or a
purse here, you can hope to get it back, which may not be the case in
north India,'' Sunil says.