In parched Ramanathapuram, O Panneerselvam rides on BJP support & 'past glory' in bid to stay relevant in Tamil Nadu politics

The former chief minister is pitted against businessman and incumbent MP Nawas Kani of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a DMK ally, and AIADMK’s P Jeyaperumal apart from Chandirapriya of NTK.
Last Updated : 10 April 2024, 20:59 IST

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Ramanathapuram (TN): In 2001, the then AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa chose first-time MLA O Panneerselvam as the “stand-by” Chief Minister as she had to quit due to a court case. Thirteen years later, when she was convicted in a corruption case, Jayalalithaa’s choice to replace her was none other than Panneerselvam aka OPS.

Will Panneerselvam continue to be remembered by his past glory or will he make a name for himself? That’s the question on people’s mind with the former three-time chief minister, backed by the BJP, entering the electoral fray as an independent candidate from the Ramanathapuram Lok Sabha constituency, primarily to remain relevant in Tamil Nadu politics.

His indecisive nature and lack of a support base in the AIADMK made it easy for his one-time junior and now bete noire Edappadi K Palaniswami to expel him from the party. Having nowhere to go, OPS knocked at the doors of the BJP and is now seeking people’s mandate from a constituency far-away from his native Theni district.

The contest in Ramanathapuram

The former chief minister is pitted against businessman and incumbent MP Nawas Kani of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a DMK ally, and AIADMK’s P Jeyaperumal apart from Chandirapriya of NTK. OPS faces a huge challenge from four other O Panneerselvams – his namesakes who are contesting as Independents – though his team is burning the midnight oil to take his symbol ‘jackfruit’ to the electorate.

Spread over Ramanathapuram, Pudukkottai, and Virudhunagar districts, the constituency has about 25 percent of minorities, including 19 per cent Muslims, with the remaining 75 per cent belonging to several castes like the dominant Mukulathors, an umbrella term used to refer to Kallars, Maravars, and Agamudaiyars, Dalits, Yadavas, and Mutharaiyars.

Though Kani faces anti-incumbency, the anticipated “en masse” transfer of minority votes and the numerical strength of the DMK alliance is likely to neutralize the opposition while the split in the AIADMK vote bank might also help him. Kani is also banking on the support of the DMK minister Rajakannappan who wields considerable influence among Yadavas to win a second term.

Jeyaperumal is dependent on the core votes of the AIADMK, the magical symbol of Two Leaves and the anti-incumbency votes against the three-year-old DMK government, besides the minorities as the party is no more in an alliance with the BJP.

Issues in the constituency

A parched land, Ramanathapuram consists of some of the under-developed areas in the state with drinking water being the major problem for people of this constituency. People of this constituency say they suffer for drinking water during the summer and public representatives should ensure that people here are not deprived of basic facilities.

With a significant population of fishermen living in Rameswaram and adjoining areas, problems faced by fishermen both in the land and in the sea are also part of the campaign of many political parties.

Indian fishermen being attacked by the Sri Lankan Navy for “transgressing” into its waters and the tiny island of Katchatheevu, brought to focus now by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are being raised by all political parties.

“Politicians remember us only during elections. And just a few weeks before elections, the Katchatheevu issue has been brought to the center stage. No one will answer our question on what they were doing all these years?” Pandian, a fisherman from Rameswaram, asked.

OPS’ support base

OPS is banking on the votes of Mukulathors – he is an Agamudaiyar – to romp home or at least finish as the runner-up in Ramanathapuram by pushing the AIADMK candidate to the third slot to drive home the point that the Mukulathors are standing by him than his former party. However, he faces a tough battle even as he hopes that the Devendrakula Vellalars (DVK), who are warming up to the BJP, will vote for him.

The Mukulathors have long been strong supporters of the AIADMK, but a section of them are “upset” with Palaniswami for sidelining all its community. OPS and BJP believe they can tap this section to make a difference in many constituencies in Southern Tamil Nadu.

OPS is also relying on the support of another AIADMK rebel T T V Dhinakaran, whose party AMMK scored about 14 per cent votes here in 2019, in his debutant Parliament election, and his “goodwill” among the people.

“I have only known him from TV but for the time I saw him in person here. He is a nice man and was with Amma (Jayalalithaa). I think I will vote for him. I too belong to his community,” Lakshmi, a flower seller, told DH.

If OPS didn’t contest, Lakshmi would have voted for the DMK as she is a beneficiary of the Rs 1,000 monthly assistance scheme for women.

However, Rathinam, hard-core AIADMK supporter, said he will only vote for the Two Leaves symbol though he likes OPS. “It has become habitual for us to vote for AIADMK. I will only vote for two leaves symbols irrespective of the candidate,” Rathinam added.

Published 10 April 2024, 20:59 IST

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