K. Ponmudy | Stalin’s man

The DMK leader’s re-induction into the Tamil Nadu Cabinet after the SC stayed his conviction in a disproportionate assets case saw tensions rise between the government and the Governor

March 24, 2024 01:57 am | Updated 11:27 am IST

Illustration: R. Rajesh

Illustration: R. Rajesh

When Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi staged a walkout to protest the resolution that sought to retain the portion of his customary address that he skipped, Higher Education Minister K. Ponmudy alone could be seen making a gesture, “get lost”. It was January 2023. Mr. Ponmudy was not in the Assembly when the Governor refused to read his customary address in 2024. He had already been divested of his portfolios after the Madras High Court sentenced him and his wife for three years in jail in a disproportionate assets case.

It looked as if the ongoing tussle between the Tamil Nadu government and the Governor became a personal battle between Mr. Ponmudy and Mr. Ravi. The Governor refused to swear him in even after the Supreme Court stayed the conviction. The Governor reluctantly did it on March 22, only after the Chief Justice of India, D.Y. Chandrachud, came down on him for “defying the Supreme Court of India”.

The author of The Dravidian movement and the black movement, an outcome of his doctoral thesis, Mr. Ponmudy, a hardcore follower of Periyar, the founder of the Dravidian Movement, was a student of the Annamalai University, a citadel of the Communist and Dravidian Movement. Mr. Ponmudy was the secretary of the Dravida Manavar Kazhagam in the university.

Rise to prominence

As a college teacher, he worked in Villupuram and Kumbakonam colleges and functioned as the state vice-president of the Pakutharivalar Kazhagam (Rationalist Kazhagam) since government employees could not become members of a political party. ‘When a speaker who was supposed to participate in a meeting organised on the occasion of the birthday of Kalaignar [M. Karunanidhi], did not turn up, Ponmudy filled the slot and enthralled the audience,” recalled a close associate. The event drew the attention of the party high-command, particularly Karunanidhi.

Mr. Ponmudy, now a sitting member of Thirukovilur, always wanted to start his career as a legislator from the constituency since his native village T. Edayar was part of it. He started contesting from the 1980s, but took his first victory in the 1989 Assembly elections held after the demise of AIADMK founder M.G. Ramachandran.

The DMK won the elections, as there were multi-cornered contests and the AIADMK went to the polls under the leadership of Janaki, the widow of MGR, and Jayalalithaa. Mr. Karunanidhi, who allocated berths for Duraimurgan and Veerpandi Arumugam, members of the Vanniyar Community, wanted to offer a berth for a non-Vanniyar, and Mr. Ponmudy filled the slot. His elevation as a Minister also witnessed his rise in the party. He always found a berth in the subsequent DMK governments led by M. Karunanidhi and Mr. Stalin.

He was arrested when Jayalalithaa was the Chief Minister after he entered Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation godowns in 2001 to prove that the quality of rice meant for public distribution was of poor quality.

The rise of strong second-line leaders such as Mr. Duraimurugan, Mr. Ponmudy, Veerapandi Arumugam and K.N. Nehru had forced Mr. Stalin to take a decision against offering positions for their sons in the youth-wing of the party. Mr. Stalin also bifurcated and trifurcated the party’s district units to clip the wings of the second-line leaders. But eventually he had to reverse his stand and award seats to the wards of these leaders.

Mr. Ponmudy is known for his outbursts and impatience with party workers, But his close associates say it is actually a facade. “He will always ensure that the requests of party workers are fulfilled even though he would have behaved rudely when they had approached him. How do you explain his victories in elections?” asked a close associate. Despite his clout, he was not able to get the Kallakurichi Lok Sabha seat for his son Gowtham Sigamani, its sitting member.

His re-induction may infuse the energy he required to perform. But everything depends on the outcome of the Lok Sabha polls. The DMK, even if it makes a mark in Tamil Nadu, will be at the mercy of the BJP if it emerges victorious at the national level.

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