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Fight for Mukulathor votes in South Tamil Nadu: Will O Panneerselvam-T T V Dhinakaran make inroads?

Spread across central and southern parts of the state, Mukulathors have traditionally voted for the AIADMK for decades together, but in 2021, they seemed to have moved away from the party due to a slew of factors.
Last Updated : 14 April 2024, 13:38 IST
Last Updated : 14 April 2024, 13:38 IST

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Tirunelveli (Tamil Nadu): In the narrow by-lanes of Marukalkurichi, known as a Maravar village in local parlance, wall markers seeking votes for Tirunelveli BJP candidate Nainar Nagendran are hard to miss.

“Please press the Lotus symbol in favour of Nainar Nagendran, who is supported by T T V Dhinakaran, O Panneerselvam and Narendra Modi,” the markers read.

Such markers and posters could be seen in many villages dominated by Maravars, who along with Agamudaiyars and Kallars, form the umbrella caste group of Mukulathors or Thevars, in southern Tamil Nadu. This gives a sense of how the AIADMK rebels are being invoked to get the votes of the community which is apparently upset with the Dravidian major for "sidelining" its leaders such as TTV, OPS, and V K Sasikala. 

Spread across central and southern parts of the state, Mukulathors have traditionally voted for the AIADMK for decades together, but in 2021, they seemed to have moved away from the party due to a slew of factors, including the 10.5 per cent internal reservation for Vanniyars in north Tamil Nadu, in the 20 per cent quota for most backward classes (MBC). 

Mukulathor votes

A chunk of the Mukulathor votes – not all -- in at least a half-a-dozen constituencies are expected to move towards the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, in which TTV and OPS are an integral part, possibly hurting the prospects of AIADMK. 

Though Dhinakaran and OPS aren’t seen as representatives of the umbrella group, the former’s AMMK had scored over 1 lakh votes in four Lok Sabha constituencies in the South in 2019 and played the spoiler for AIADMK in many seats in the 2021 assembly polls. 

At the only bus stop in Marukalkurichi, 34-year-old Pechithaai told DH that she would vote for Lotus on April 19. “My vote is for (Narendra) Modi and (TN BJP chief K) Annamalai,” she said, even as she is interjected by Murugamma, who asked, “what’s wrong in voting for the BJP?” 

“We always voted for the AIADMK. But this time, we believe the AIADMK may not win in Tirunelveli. So, we have decided to vote for the BJP,” Pechithaai said.  

A few kilometers away in Nanguneri, outside the Vanamamalai Perumal Temple, Pandaram was explicit. “I will vote for BJP this time. Many Maravars will vote for the BJP this time because they are not happy with the AIADMK. And OPS and TTV are on the BJP side. That’s a plus for us,” Pandaram said. 

'BJP had always attempted to woo Mukulathors'

In Theni, 200 km from Tirunelveli, people openly say that they will vote for Dhinakaran, who is the candidate of the BJP alliance, as he is a Thevar, and there is palpable anger over the split in the AIADMK. 

Murmurs are also heard in many southern districts that the AIADMK is now a “Gounder party”, in an obvious reference to its general secretary Edappadi K Palaniswami hailing from the Gounder caste. 

“As far as I am concerned, today’s AIADMK is not the same that was once helmed by Amma(Jayalalithaa). What was the need to expel all popular Mukulathor faces? Didn’t the community stand-by the party for three decades?” Maheswaran, a daily labourer, asked. 

Professor K A Manikumar, who has chronicled caste violence in the region, told DH that the BJP has been attempting to win over Thevars since the time of former prime minister A B Vajpayee but couldn’t break the stranglehold that the AIADMK led by J Jayalalithaa had over the community and its votes. 

“Mukulathors consolidated behind the AIADMK during the tenure of Jayalalithaa, thanks to V K Sasikala’s prominence in the party. Thevar solidarity is very strong, and they have always aligned under a singular leadership. The community doesn’t like multiple leadership. A section of them are now likely to rally behind Dhinakaran,” Manikumar added.

He said finally, the BJP has a chance to make inroads into the community which has always been looking for strong political parties to get its voice heard now that Jayalalithaa is no more and Sasikala is out of the AIADMK picture.

“Mukulathors now believe TTV, OPS, and Sasikala are on the same page and hence a chunk of votes might go to the BJP this election. In BJP’s pursuit, the trio will be of good help,” the professor added.

‘OPS is also reason for AIADMK split’

Continuing his conversation, Maheswaran also blames OPS of “doing nothing” when the then AIADMK government implemented internal reservation for Vanniyars that could have affected Piramalai Kallars, a sub-caste. “If not for OPS’ dharma yudham against Sasikala, the AIADMK would have stayed united,” Mahendran, who drives an autorickshaw, said. 

At a bus stop in Ramanathapuram, where OPS is contesting as an independent candidate, Anusaya, who runs a petty shop, says her belonging to Mukulathor will be a preference when it comes to voting. “If there was no OPS in the fray, I would have voted for the AIADMK. But with him, I think I will vote for him. He also belongs to my caste,” she said.

The AIADMK has been reaching out to the Mukulathors with Palaniswami himself travelling to Pasumpon in October last year to pay respects to Muthuramalinga Thevar on his birth and death anniversary. 

Thevar, a freedom fighter and leader of the All India Forward Bloc who worked under Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, is a polarising figure in Tamil Nadu politics, who is considered a demi-god by the Mukulathors but denounced by Dalits. The two communities have a chequered history in southern Tamil Nadu, which once saw frequent riots. 

Not just the AIADMK, DMK, despite not enjoying the complete trust of the community, has also been trying to woo the Mukulathors with the hope to garner a portion of the votes in the 2024 polls. 

Conscious to shed the Gounder tag that the party has acquired after he took over as Chief Minister in 2017, Palaniswami, in 2022, made Dindigul C Sreenivasan R B Udhayakumar – both Mukulathors -- as the treasurer and his deputy in the AIADMK Legislature Party to send out an olive branch to the community. 

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Published 14 April 2024, 13:38 IST

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