A new equation seems to be emerging in AIADMK politics. Edappadi Palanisamy’s election as the legislature party leader and the chief minister probable is seen as an increasing consolidation of the Gounder community in a party dominated for years by the Thevars.
Both Sasikala and caretaker CM O Panneerselvam belong to this dominant caste.
Palanisamy represents Gounders from state’s western belt, popularly called the Kongu belt. K A Sengottaiayan, the new AIADMK presidium chairman, and Lok Sabha deputy speaker M Thambidurai are the other top leaders in party from the community.
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Many observers say this power shift from may help Sasikala wipe off the impression that her family — Thevars from Mannargudi, in Thiruvarur district — controls the party in her absence, as also give representation to a numerically powerful community that has been a strong support base for AIADMK. Equally, the move may also bring new challenge, as the Thevar group that had controlled AIADMK till date looks set to split further.
There were reports that the Gounder community, led by Thambidurai, had lobbied for more power in the party after Jayalalithaa’s death. But despite the presence of 28 Gounder MLAs, the top two posts -of the CM and the party chief – went to Thevars, Panneerselvam and Sasikala, respectively.
Jayalalithaa’s Cabinet, too, had a disproportionate representation: Gounders (28 MLAs) and Vanniyars (19 MLAs) had five ministers each, while Thevars (20 MLAs) had nine ministers. From the angle of representation, Dalits were the most ignored – there were three ministers of 31 MLAs from Dalit community. About 35 MLAs from other castes and communities had 10 ministers.
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Thevars, Gounders and Vanniyars are all OBCs, and dominant castes in different regions of the state.
Political analyst and former Madras High Court judge K Chandru said these changes may bring a major shift in the party’s caste equations. “If Gounders get more key posts, which Thevars once enjoyed, it may lead to a consolidation of power in the party from its largest stronghold – the Kongu belt. But it will also help the party retain its support base in this stronghold,” he said.
Chandru said leaders such as Thambidurai may be brought back to state politics soon as part of this changing caste equations to assert more power of the Gounder community.
P Ramajayam, political analyst with the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Trichy, said the change in caste equations will not only impact the party but also overall state politics and administration. “When there was a dominance of Thevars in government and key party posts, we have seen how officials from that community had benefited by bagging key positions in the administration. It reflects from police stations to the secretariat. The same will reflect in the Gounder community as well (if Palanisamy takes over as CM).”