The Kongu Vellala Gounder caste is likely to be the most coveted by the AIADMK in this Lok Sabha polls, while the Thevars may take a backseat
In an election where fake coffins may not be paraded, the survival of battling sides will rely more on arithmetic than on issues.
And in the pursuit of that perfect election may lie the answer to AIADMK’s generosity in handing out seats to their allies.
The AIADMK under the leadership of late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa went to polls in 2014 with the two-leaves symbol in all constituencies and won 37 out of 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu. The landslide victory included large chunks of Thevar and Gounder votes.
Thevars are an OBC (Other Backward Classes) caste, dominant in the southern region of the state. Gounders (also known as Vellala Gounders or Kongu Vellala Gounders) are an OBC caste dominant in the western belt.
The credit for the Thevar votes won by the AIADMK had largely been attributed to the proximity of VK Sasikala, Jayalalithaa’s confidante, who belongs to the Thevar community.
Votes from the Kongu Vellala Gounder community were attributed to Jayalalithaa herself, an almost picture-perfect region that consistently voted for her since 1989 when she fought for control over the party in the wake of her mentor MG Ramachandran’s death.
However, much water has flown since the 2014 polls in Tamil Nadu and with Edappadi Palaniswamy as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu now, it is a whole new turf for caste equations.
The AIADMK handed out seven seats to the PMK and five seats to the BJP. At least another three will go to small political outfits. An alliance with Vijaykanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) is yet to be finalised.
In the present alliance equation, the caste factor emerges quite clearly. The PMK (Pattali Makkal Katchi) led by Dr S Ramadoss, is dependent largely on a Vanniyar votebank with a consistent 5% voteshare. Vanniyars are an MBC (Most Backward Class) caste. They are dominant in the northern belt of Tamil Nadu.
The BJP, with its five seats, is likely to contest in at least one southern seat – Kanyakumari – of which MoS Finance and Industry Pon Radhakrishnan, is the sitting MP. The other four seats are likely to be largely urban and industrialised constituencies.
Senior journalist Damodaran Prakash told The Lede – “BJP wants to gain from AIADMK’s strength. They want to encash on the support base of the Kongu Vellala Gounder community. They want the lotus to grow in someone else’s pool. So they will attempt to encash on the Kongu community,” he said.
Most of the seats remaining with the AIADMK would likely be divided almost equally between the Thevar and Gounder strongholds.
Recalling the past, senior journalist Prakash points out that Jayalalithaa gave equal weightage to the Gounder and the Thevar belts but that Kongu Vellalars responded to her when she contested on the cock symbol in 1989. She won most of the 27 seats from the Kongu region. The support was overwhelmingly for Jayalalithaa.
Her successor is now Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy, a Kongu Vellala Gounder himself. Flanking him are two other powerful ministers from the same caste – SP Velumani and P Thangamani.
In fact, it is due to the large support from the Gounder belt that Sasikala made EPS the Chief Minister when she was convicted in 2017.
But the party has distanced itself from Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran out of political compulsions.
So What Happens To The Thevars?
And so, the Thevars hang in the balance. It is in this lopsided situation that TTV Dhinakaran comes into play.
“It is a big advantage to Dhinakaran,” said Prakash. “Wherever the alliance contests, I think the original AIADMK votes will go to Dhinakaran.” And with no strong leaders in the current AIADMK from the Thevar belt, the battle in this region is likely to be between TTV Dhinakaran and the DMK.
“In the south, the AIADMK is a divided party. It is split into two – the Thevars support TTV Dhinakaran and the Kongu Vellalars support the Edappadi faction. OPS is a misfit in this since he is a Thevar and is with the Edappadi faction,” explained Prakash.
Thrust On Assembly Bypolls
The rush to tie up alliances and hand out seats generously to allies is indicative of the AIADMK’s dependence on caste arithmetic. Experts say that it is not only the Lok Sabha polls, but the Assembly bypolls for 21 seats which are on the AIADMK leadership’s minds.
K Venkataramanan, senior journalist told The Lede – “I think a large section of the AIADMK wanted the alliance with PMK, because they wanted the party badly, especially for the Assembly bypolls. The AIADMK probably knew that if they delayed even by a day, then the PMK could have gone to the DMK. So the AIADMK has pretty much outbid the DMK in order to get the PMK on their side.”
Senior journalist Prakash agrees. “Edappadi is not looking at Parliamentary polls. He is looking at Assembly bypolls. Out of 21 seats, 8 fall into PMK areas. By giving liberally to the PMK he is safeguarding his interests in continuing to remain as Chief Minister and safeguarding his government.” The eight PMK stronghold seats are Hosur, Pappireddypatti, Harur, Solingar, Ambur, Gudiyattam, Poonamallee and Tiruporur, he said.