In what has become a yearly tradition for Tamil Nadu's biggest political parties, Friday saw both the DMK and AIADMK chiefs queuing up before the statue of Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar at the Goripalayam junction in Madurai. For Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami and DMK President MK Stalin, attendance in the Thevar Jayanthi celebration this year was crucial ahead of the 2021 Assembly polls.
While both parties have seen representatives attend the anniversary celebration annually on October 30, this year, the political posturing has taken more significance. For the AIADMK, the Thevar community's large vote share in the state, has been crucial in winning elections in the past. But plagued with several splits in the party following the death of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, the support from the community could erode.
"For the Thevar community that forms 10% of the state's vote bank, Pasumpon Thevar is akin to god," explains Tharasu Shyam, a senior journalist and author of â€˜Veerathirumuruganâ€™, a book on Mutharamlingam Thevar's politics. "And while they have traditionally supported the AIADMK, this time around the exclusion of VK Sasikala and TTV Dhinakaran could cost the party. Sasikala and Dhinakaran are seen as Thevar icons in the party and have created a certain sense of loyalty amongst the community. For the AIADMK, this is an effort to hold back this vote bank," he adds.
According to the senior journalist, between 1967 and 1971, the Thevar community voted for the DMK due to the goodwill that former Chief Ministers Annadurai and MG Ramachandran (MGR) had created by participating in the final journey of Pasumpon Muthuramalingam Thevar. When MGR left the DMK, the Thevar vote followed him to the AIADMK.
"In at least 38 constituencies, the Thevar vote is the deciding factor," says Shyam. "The DMK too has been trying to make inroads here. It was Kalaignar (M Karunanidhi) who built the statue in Goripalayam and later Jayalalithaa who gave a gold armour as a gift. Till he was active, Kalaignar was visiting the statue. But since 2015, MK Stalin has been regularly paying his respects to the late Thevar leader," he adds.
Given the exit of prominent Thevar leaders from the AIADMK, the DMK is keen to capitalise on the vote bank.
"While it may look like only the AIADMK is embracing the Thevar community, the DMK too has prominent Thevar leaders. In Fact after the Mudaliar community it is the Thevar community, that occupies the top rungs in the party," says a DMK leader on the condition of anonymity. "Given that the Thevar community votes as a block, it is important for us to make effort to gain their support."