Caste, a fault line of AIADMK politics now

Gounders, a dominant community and support base of the party, seek greater representation.

Updated - July 15, 2019 05:02 pm IST

Published - December 09, 2016 09:28 am IST - Chennai:

An AIADMK spokesperson, requesting anonymity, acknowledged the cracks on caste lines.

An AIADMK spokesperson, requesting anonymity, acknowledged the cracks on caste lines.

Post-Jayalalithaa, the AIADMK has developed a fault line — a divide between representatives of Mukkulathors (Thevars) and Gounders (Kongu Vellalars), the two dominant communities, which have been the traditional support base of the party in its strongholds, the southern and western districts respectively.

Although the party’s new power centre — V.K. Sasikala and her advisers — decided to retain all members of the Jayalalithaa Cabinet in O. Panneerselvam’s government, the Gounders, who constitute the single largest intermediate caste group in the AIADMK legislature party, feel short-changed in terms of ministerial representation.

“There are 28 MLAs who belong to various Gounder sects, but only five of them are in the Cabinet. In contrast, nine of the 20 Mukkulathor legislators are in the government, including the Chief Minister. This is a gross imbalance,” says a party leader and legislator.

Under Jayalalithaa, the Gounders were content as their representatives — ‘Edappadi’ K. Palaniswami (PWD), P. Thangamani (Electricity), S.P. Velumani (Municipal Administration) and K.C. Karuppannan — were given plum portfolios and also ranked high in the seniority list. However, they now want a recalibration.

“Certain seniors like S. Semmalai and K.A. Sengottaiyan, both former Ministers who have been with the party since MGR’s time, were ignored by Amma. This is the time for them to be rewarded,” said a legislator.

Mr. Palaniswami, who is number three in the Cabinet, was in the race for chief ministership but Ms. Sasikala did not back him.

The AIADMK won secured 44 seats in the western districts in May, which helped it retain power.

“Perhaps, caste politics has come to the fore for the first time and the ruling party is vulnerable in the present situation,” says Professor Ramu Manivannan of the Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras. “It is unfortunate that the chief minister is determined by caste and not by value,” he says. Tamil Nadu, known for Dravidian rationalism, could well become a State like Bihar, where caste politics dominates, he adds.

An AIADMK spokesperson, requesting anonymity, acknowledged the cracks on caste lines. “We are apprehensive that this will eventually put cadres belonging to other communities in a dilemma on whose side to take in the future,” he said.





With 30 per cent of the MLAs from their community, there is intense lobbying from the Gounders for the post of party general secretary, party sources said. However, Professor Manivannan says, “Already, Ms. Sasikala has conceded the chief minister’s post to O. Panneerselvam. If she gives away the general secretaryship also, it will be difficult to handle two proxies at the same time.”

A Minister said the cracks were not wide enough to bring the government down. “No one is in a mood to weaken the party,” he says.

“If you look at the history of Tamil Nadu politics, except Kamaraj, all the other Chief Ministers were not from significantly dominant communities and were able to strike a balance among major communities. If the Chief Minister is from a majority community, then other communities may rally together,” said a party senior.

(With inputs from Tamil Nadu Bureau)

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