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The Thevar Jayanthi function on October 30 has brought out the caste conflicts within the AIADMK with former Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) finding himself at the receiving end for his decision not to visit the memorial of freedom fighter Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar at Pasumpon during the latter’s 60th Guru Pooja. His detractors in the rival factions of the AIADMK had started a campaign that he had no respect for the Mukkulathor icon and the community should not vote for a party led by him in future elections.
Besides his rival and former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam (OPS) utilized the occasion to show his support among the community. Former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s aide VK Sasikala and Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) leader TTV Dhinakaran too made use of the event to mobilise crowds and exhibit their support among their community, a major vote bank of AIADMK in the southern and Cauvery delta districts.
AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran and his successor J Jayalalithaa were not seen as leaders belonging to a particular community and they drew support from all sections cutting across community and religion. Even after MGR formed his own AIADMK, the DMK retained its influence over the Mukkulathor votes especially in the Cauvery delta districts, while the community vote bank was shared between both the Dravidian parties in the southern districts.
The Thevar Jayanthi function on October 30 has brought out the caste conflicts within the AIADMK with former Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisami (EPS) finding himself at the receiving end for his decision not to visit the memorial of freedom fighter Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar at Pasumpon during the latter’s 60th Guru Pooja
After J Jayalalithaa emerged as the AIADMK supremo, she eroded the Mukkulathor votes of the DMK in the Cauvery delta region too. One of the major reasons cited for the overwhelming support for the AIADMK among Mukkulathors after Jayalalithaa took over was her close friendship with Sasikala, who belonged to the community and hailed from the Cauvery delta region.
The western region of Tamil Nadu has always been a stronghold of the AIADMK, since its inception as MGR had an overwhelming support base among the Kongu Velalar Gounders and Arunthathiyars, who form a major chunk of the region’s population. The party used to win a majority of seats in the southern and western region of Tamil Nadu during see-saw electoral battles, while sweeping all the regions during a wave situation. With the party always remaining a dominant force in the southern and western regions, most of the party’s ministers and top leaders too emerged from these regions and most of them were from the Mukkulathor and Kongu Velala Gounder community.
As long as MGR and Jayalalithaa were leading the party, no other leader had any visibility in the party which totally relied on the charisma of the two popular leaders. However, after Jayalalithaa’s death, the emergence of leaders from two dominant communities-the Mukkulathors and Gounders- has brought caste equations into play.
While Palaniswami is a Gounder, the other three leaders Panneerselvam, Sasikala and Dhinakaran belong to the Mukkulathor community. Palaniswami is cautiously avoiding any perception of promoting Gounder interests in the party but his rival Panneerselvam, who has little support among the general council members and MLAs is not shying away from being portrayed as a Mukkulathor leader. His readiness to join hands with Dhinakaran and Sasikala has also given rise to an impression of Mukkulathors uniting to take control of the AIADMK.
Thevar Guru Pooja has given a chance for the detractors of EPS to drive home the message that an AIADMK under him will not secure votes in the southern and delta districts of Tamil Nadu and exert pressure on him to strike a unity deal with Panneerselvam, Sasikala and Dhinakaran
Palaniswami has chosen two Mukkulathor leaders, former minister RB Udhayakumar as the deputy leader of the party in the Assembly and another former minister Dindigul C Srinivasan as the AIADMK treasurer. Despite their seniority and big success in their districts, leaders from his community had not been promoted to higher ranks and positions. Besides, his faction has wide array of leaders from all communities in the State.
The Thevar Guru Pooja became an occasion for both the factions to garner support among the community and the fight began with the claim for getting the rights to install the golden armour presented by Jayalalithaa on Muthuramalinga Thevar statue. It resulted in a legal tussle and the court finally ordered that the DRO must receive the armour and install it on the statue.
At this time, the reluctance of Palaniswami to visit the memorial and send two party leaders Udhayakumar and Dindigul C Seenivasan came as a golden opportunity for his detractors to paint him as a leader against the interests of the Mukkulathor community.
In the 2021 Assembly elections, AIADMK won 29 of the 46 seats in the Kongu region, nearly half of the total number of party legislators now. It won only 16 of the 58 constituencies in the southern districts, compared to 32 out of 58 seats in the 2016 Assembly elections. In the delta districts, the party won only 4 out of the 41 seats, which is 19 seats less than the number it got in 2016.
Thevar Guru Pooja has given a chance for the detractors of EPS to drive home the message that an AIADMK under him will not secure votes in the southern and delta districts of Tamil Nadu and exert pressure on him to strike a unity deal with Panneerselvam, Sasikala and Dhinakaran. Till now, caste calculations of mainstream parties were confined to selection of candidates according to the caste demography of the constituencies. Lack of charismatic leaders in the AIADMK has led to a situation of caste identities and calculations playing a decisive role in the leadership struggle now.
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