Edappadi looking to widen support base

July 20, 2018 12:00 am | Updated 03:50 am IST - CHENNAI

Is AIADMK eyeing electorally crucial communities?

Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami’s latest announcement of a memorial in Cuddalore for S.S. Ramaswamy Padayatchi, a forerunner in political mobilisation of Vanniyars, is being seen as a move that marks the continuation of the AIADMK regime’s efforts to woo electorally-important intermediate communities, months before the forthcoming Lok Sabha election.

A few weeks ago, the Chief Minister stated that Padayatchi’s birth anniversary would be observed as an official event. Besides, the State government went ahead and adopted a Bill, envisaging the creation of a board to protect and maintain properties of charitable trusts and endowments meant for the welfare of the Vanniyars. Widely regarded as the largest caste in the State, the Vanniyars are living predominantly in northern and western parts of the State.

On Sunday, Mr Palaniswami visited Virudhunagar to address a meeting held by the Nadar Mahajana Sangam on the occasion of birth anniversary of former Chief Minister Kamaraj. His participation signalled a nuanced shift from the practice of his predecessor, Jayalalithaa, who had paid just floral tributes to the late leader.

Given the perception among politicians that substantial sections of the Mukkalothars seem to be rallying behind the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam founder T.T.V. Dhinakaran, the government’s measures have sparked a debate whether the ruling party is gearing itself to bring into its fold non-Mukkalothar communities.

Strongly disputing this contention, K. P. Munusamy, joint coordinator, and S. Semmalai, Mettur legislator and organising secretary, both belonging to the Vanniyar community, assert that their party had all along been an organisation for all communities, regardless of caste or creed or religion. They recall how the party fielded and ensured the success of Dalit Ezhilmalai in Tiruchi Lok Sabha constituency, a general seat, during the 2001 by-election and R. Vadivel in the Vaniyambadi Assembly constituency, known for having about one-third of voters from Muslims, in another by-poll in 2002.

Mr Munusamy points out that sentiments of the Mukkalothars have always been respected by the AIADMK.

‘Equal treatment to all’

Last year, the birth anniversary of Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar was observed with the usual gaiety and it would continue to be so. Mr Semmalai says the Chief Minister has been following in the footsteps of M G Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa in according equal treatment to all the communities.

“Is it not apparent that the party gives importance to the Mukkalothars by having O. Panneerselvam as the party coordinator and Deputy Chief Minister,” the former Minister asks.

A chronicler of the AIADMK’s history adds that the government’s decision to conduct the birth anniversary of veteran thespian Sivaji Ganesan, who was from the Mukkalothars, should also be seen against this backdrop.

However, there are sceptics and critics of the ruling party’s “outreach programme.” Mr. Ezhilmalai feels that the Chief Minister is only making “feeble attempts” to garner support of various communities.

K. Balu, spokesperson of the Pattali Makkal Katchi, says the bill has been fashioned on the lines of the Wakf Board. There has been criticism that the Wakf Board itself has been ineffective. “Under such circumstances, what difference will this body make,” he asks.

But, C.Ve. Shanmugam, Law Minister and a prominent face of Vanniyars in the ruling party, counters the criticism against the new body by saying that such remarks are made by those who “are unable to appreciate our work.” Even though the previous DMK regime had established a body in this regard, there was no statutory backing, “which was why the move flopped,” Mr Shanmugam explains, adding that the government’s gesture in recent weeks only fulfils long-standing demands of Vanniyars.

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