Removal of OPS from AIADMK: Will it affect party’s Thevar vote bank?

OPS is the third major leader from the Thevar community to be expelled from the AIADMK after VK Sasikala and TTV Dhinakaran.

ByShilpa Nair

Published Jul 29, 2022 | 2:24 PMUpdatedAug 03, 2022 | 3:23 PM

OPS, EPS, Thevar statue

Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS), the newly appointed interim general secretary of the AIADMK, has been playing his cards very carefully after the General Council of the party expelled O Panneerselvam (OPS) and a few of his supporters from the party’s primary membership on 11 July.

OPS, who belongs to the Thevar or Mukkulathor community — a dominant caste in southern parts of Tamil Nadu — is the third big leader from the community to be expelled from the AIADMK after VK Sasikala, a close confidante of late party supremo J Jayalalithaa, and TTV Dhinakaran, Sasikala’s nephew.

A look at the new appointments EPS made after he took charge as the interim general secretary of the AIADMK clearly shows that he has been careful not to disturb the caste equations within the party. It is also an attempt to mute the criticism that Gounders — the caste to which EPS and some other senior leaders from his side belong — are sidelining leaders from the Thevar community.

When OPS was a member of the AIADMK, he held the post of treasurer, apart from being the party coordinator. Similarly, he was also Tamil Nadu’s deputy leader of the opposition. Now, EPS has appointed Dindigul Srinivasan as the AIADMK treasurer and RB Udhayakumar as the deputy leader of the opposition. Both Sreenivasan and Udayakumar belong to the Thevar community.

AIADMK interim general secretary Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) (right) meets RB Udhayakumar after the latter was chosen on 19 July as the deputy leader of the opposition, a post that was earlier held by O Panneerselvam (OPS). Like OPS, Udhayakumar also belongs to the Thevar community (Twitter/AIADMKOfficial)

Again, out of the two new deputy general secretaries of the AIADMK — Natham R Viswanathan and KP Munusamy, the former is a Thevar leader. Further, of the 11 newly appointed organising secretaries of the party, four are Thevars.

Other castes such as Vanniyars, Dalits, and Naickers have also been given representation.

‘EPS trying to accommodate other Thevar leaders’

Professor Ramajayam, a political commentator, pointed out that EPS is mindful of accommodating other Thevar leaders in the party in an attempt to keep the community vote bank intact.

“I don’t think EPS will lose support. He is showing that he is ready to accommodate the leaders from the Thevar community and take them along. All the important second-rung leaders from the community are with EPS today, and some of these leaders were chosen by Sasikala back in the day,” he told South First.

Ramajayam added that EPS allowed Thevar leaders to function independently and recognised them — a compelling reason for these leaders to extend their support to the former chief minister.

Similar sentiments were also expressed by a senior AIADMK leader from the Thevar community who is now with the EPS camp.

“EPS accommodates everyone. He takes everyone into confidence. Our views are heard. So, when he has emerged as a leader who can take the party forward after MGR and Amma, all of us have to help him in that,” the leader told South First.

Lack of support for OPS within Thevar community

Apart from the glaring lack of political support, what also became clear during the bitter leadership tussle between EPS and OPS is how the latter did not enjoy much support from his own community.

AIADMK general council meeting where OPS was expelled

AIADMK workers with posters of former Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) at the party’s general council meeting in Chennai on July 11. O Panneerselvam (OPS), three-time former chief minister expelled at the meet, is conspicuous by his absence. (South First/ Umar Sharieef)

Not only did several of the other senior AIADMK leaders from the Thevar community choose to side with EPS, there was also no support for OPS at the ground level, even in the southern districts of the state.

For example, after the first attempt to expel OPS during the General Council meeting of the AIADMK on 23 June was stalled by means of a court order, he undertook a tour of southern districts, a Thevar stronghold, in order to garner support. However, it failed to fetch him the desired results.

“If OPS was an influential leader of the Thevar community, what happened to him wouldn’t have happened in the first place. He simply didn’t enjoy popular support,” Professor Ramajayam weighed in.

Expressing similar views, Ramu Manivannan, retired professor of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Madras, told South First that though OPS is very aware of the dynamics of caste, he is a “highly self-centred” politician who does not distribute power or favours.

‘What has OPS done for Thevars?’

But what explains the unpopularity of OPS even amongst his own Thevar community?

When South First spoke to several leaders of smaller Thevar caste-based groups, all of them had one question to ask: “What has OPS done for the community?”

“When OPS was in the party, and even when he held top positions in the government, he was of no use to the Thevar community. And now that he is out of the party, not much will change for us,” Aadhi Narayanan, founder and chairman of Maruthu Senai, a caste-based outfit, told South First.

Narayanan also went on to compare OPS with EPS, who he believes worked hard for the welfare of the Gounder community and the Kongu region, comprising the western districts of Tamil Nadu — a traditional AIADMK bastion where Gounders are dominant.

“Forget the entire south Tamil Nadu, OPS did not work or even help people in Periyakulam, which is his native place. He broke the party for his selfish needs. Now OPS wants the support of the Thevar community for his political survival, which is again selfish,” Narayanan further charged.

Expressing similar views, Thirumaran, founder of South India Forward Bloc, said he sees no big impact within the Thevar community for now due to the expulsion of OPS from the AIADMK.

“If he had worked for the people, he would have had more support. He did not do anything even for the people who trusted him,” Thirumaran told South First.

Several leaders of caste-based outfits also took the example of how OPS, despite the positions he held in the government, did not do much to name the Madurai international airport after Muthuramalinga Thevar — a freedom fighter and an icon of the Thevar community — which has been a long-pending demand.

This aside, the senior AIADMK leader who spoke to South First also highlighted the failure of OPS to work politically in the southern districts during recent elections.

“During the Assembly elections, EPS worked in all 234 constituencies. But how many constituencies did OPS work in? He was the AIADMK coordinator at that point, and he couldn’t even secure seats for the party in his own district of Theni and other neighboring districts,” the senior leader pointed out. The AIADMK won only 16 out of the 58 seats in southern Tamil Nadu in the 2021 Assembly elections.

Gounder vs Thevar fight?

EPS is the new AIADMK interim general secretary

A poster at the AIADMK general council meeting on July 11 hailing EPS as the party’s leader (South First/Umar Sharieef)

Though OPS may not enjoy popular support, experts also say that some sections of the Thevar community may feel uncomfortable about playing second fiddle to Gounders.

The entire issue could be viewed as a Gounder vs Thevar fight as three major leaders from the latter — Sasikala, Dhinakaran, and OPS — were ousted from the AIADMK by EPS, which could result in caste consolidation.

“Some people within the community may feel disgruntled, and this could help OPS. But how he chooses to convert this feeling politically, his victory will be based on that,” a leader of a Thevar outfit told South First.

Retired professor Manivannan also noted that there will be a projection of caste consolidation, but how much of it really translates on the ground would depend on a host of factors, including how Sasikala and Dhinakaran play their cards.