Party, caste lines polarisation in TN’S Thevar belt
From S Murari
A tour of the sprawling Periakulam parliamentary constituency nestling in the Western Ghats and considered a Thevar belt and a bastion of the AIADMK as well as southern towns of Aruppokottain, Sivakasi, Virudhunagar and Srivilliputhur reveals public opinion is sharply polarised on party and caste lines.The AIADMK line is reflected by ardent supporter Chelladurai of Periyakulam who is sure that “Amma” (Ms Jayalalitha), who was “magnanimous enough” to let Chief Minister M Karunanidhi off the hook during the previous AIADMK rule, will not repeat the same mistake and will put him in jail if voted back to power.This may be an extreme party view. But corruption at lower levels is known to the people. For example, the DMK has had to shift the sitting MLA from Periyakulam, Mr L Mookiah Thevar, to neighbouring Theni district this time following allegations that he has amassed wealth.
There are few takers for the unstated AIADMK view that the DMK is no less corrupt but has got away with it because it has indulged in “scientific corruption” as the Sarkaria Commission said in the 1970s. As Mr N Bose, a DMK sympathiser in Aruppukottai points out, the corruption charges levelled by the AIADMK against the DMK are a clear afterthought to divert attention away from Ms Jayalalitha’s misrule. He asks, “ If they had proof, why didn’t they seek the Governor’s permission to prosecute the Chief Minister and the Ministers as Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy did when Ms Jayalalitha was Chief Minister?” PUBLIC AWARENESS: A noteworthy feature is that the enormous spread of satellite television and cable networks has remarkably increased public awareness even in the remotest of villages. With prominent leaders brought to your drawing table, there is no mad rush to see your icon as it used to be in the early days or blind support to any party or leader, though often thinking is conditioned on party lines for the majority of the voters.
Even those who are not supporters of the DMK acknowledge the good work done in the last five years, especially in rural areas, works like laying concrete roads, linking hamlets to nearby towns through mini buses, streamlining public distribution system to ensure availability of essential commodities to the targeted groups, raising the minimum wages of agricultural labourers and so on.
A more recent phenonemon is the sharp caste division, especially in the southern districts following running battles between the Puthiya Tamizhagam, representing the Pallars, and the backward militant Thever community. The PT’s alliance with the DMK has alienated even neutral and uncommitted Thevars as well other predominant castes like Naickers, Naidus, Reddiars and Chettiars. Ms Saradha, animator of a women’s voluntary organisation in Kollaveeranpatti in Sedapatti constituency, puts it in perspective. This is a hamlet of 500 voters divided on party and caste lines. “ We shall appeal to the people not to be swayed by caste or class but chose a candidate on his intrinsic merit,” she says.
And adds, after a pause, “If no one listens to us, we too have to assert our Naicker identity and vote for the Marumalarchi DMK (whose leader Vaiko belongs to this community)”.It is a moot point whether a good candidate can neutralise the caste factor. The DMK candidate for Aruppukottai, Mr Thangam Thennarasu, for example, is the son of the late minister Thangapandian who had done yeomen service to the constituency. Mr Thennarasu’s popularity cuts across party lines. Yet, as a local journalist put it: “ This is an out and out rural constituency where women have refused to even test the electronic voting machines because the officials had failed to include the AIADMK’s two leaves symbol during the demonstration. Such women may readily acknowledge Mr Thennarasu as a good man but when they see the DMK’s rising sun symbol against his name, they will be reminded only of Mr Karunanidhi.”Mr K K S S R Ramachandran, who was a mnister in the MGR Government and who defected from the AIADMK to the DMK a few years ago and is now considered a lieutenant of Mr Karunanidhi’s son M K Stalin, has played a crucial role in firming up the DMK alliance.
Mr Ramachandran, who is seeking election from Sathur. his native constituency in Virudhunagar district, acknowledges that the DMK leaders had to think twice before admitting caste-based parties into the front. But then, “with 80 per cent of the Thevars committed to the AIADMK in the southern districts, we had to make good the loss elsewhere and the result is the alliance with the PT which has a committed following among the Pallars, a Dalit sub-caste predominant in the south”. Likewise, the DMK had to go with the Dalit Panthers of India, representing the Pariahs, to offset the loss of the Vanniar vote in northern Tamil Nadu after the defection of the Pattali Makkal Katchi to the AIADMK, he points out.Mr K K S S Ramachandran, under whose Sathur constituency this village comes, however, is confident for the simple reason that there is no anti-establishment mood, let alone a wave. “ I ask people, why should you vote against Mr Karunanidhi and for Ms Jayalalitha. They have no answer.