AIADMK general secretary Edappadi K. Palaniswami’s visit to Pasumpon in Ramanathapuram district next week to pay homage to U. Muthuramalinga Thevar on the Forward Bloc leader’s birth anniversary has set tongues wagging about the party’s outreach in the southern districts, its stronghold once.
The region — comprising 58 Assembly constituencies in the districts of Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Virudhunagar, Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram, Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi, Tenkasi and Kanniyakumari — no longer provides the party with the electoral comfort.
The AIADMK posted its maiden electoral success in the Dindigul Lok Sabha constituency in the 1973 by-election. Thereafter, its founder M.G. Ramachandran contested successfully in the 1977, 1980 and 1984 Assembly elections in the southern region (Aruppukottai, Madurai-West and Andipatti) and became the Chief Minister.
His successor, Jayalalithaa, tasted her first success in an Assembly election from Bodinayakkanur in Theni district in 1989. She also represented Andipatti in 2002 and 2006. But the AIADMK’s supremacy in the region has eroded over the years. The process was evident even when Jayalalithaa was alive: in 2016, the margin of difference in terms of seats between the AIADMK and the DMK-led front was only six. Five years later, a majority of the seats went over to the DMK-led front.
Besides, the expulsion of the former coordinator and the party’s face in Theni district, O. Panneerselvam, from the organisation and his decision to join hands with T.T.V. Dhinakaran of the AMMK can make the situation more challenging to the AIADMK. In the 2021 election, the AMMK’s presence cost the AIADMK dear in 10 constituencies in the region. All these and much more explain the significance of Mr. Palaniswami’s visit to Pasumpon, the first in the last three years.
This will be the third event involving Mr. Palaniswami himself in the south in the last two months. On August 20, he got the party’s golden jubilee celebration organised in Madurai. A week ago, he addressed an event to mark the party’s foundation day at Sankarankovil in Tenkasi district, an Assembly constituency that the party lost in 2021 for the first time in 25 years.
R.B. Udhayakumar, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, says there is nothing unique about the party’s treatment of the southern region. “The party’s general secretary goes to different places of the State as part of his tour. Soon, he will visit the central districts too,” he points out. (A party release issued subsequently said Mr. Palaniswami would take part in an event in Thanjavur on November 4).
The former Revenue Minister points out that in 2006, when Jayalalithaa was at the helm, the AIADMK could not win a single seat in Kanniyakumari district and former Minister N. Thalavai Sundaram lost in Kanniyakumari. But he was elected from the same constituency in 2021.
Acknowledging the party’s special focus on the southern districts, Mr. Sundaram says the aim is to cash in on the “anti-incumbency” factor working against the ruling DMK. As the ruling party too is not in a position to project anyone for Prime Minister, the AIADMK is not going to be hamstrung by its lack of a prime ministerial candidate, the Kanniyakumari MLA explains, adding, “We hope to bag a good number of seats in the region.”