Denied their due, are Dalit MLAs rising up to bargain with AIADMK factions?

16 Dalit MLAs failed to turn up at the AIADMK meeting called by CM EPS on Monday.
Denied their due, are Dalit MLAs rising up to bargain with AIADMK factions?
Denied their due, are Dalit MLAs rising up to bargain with AIADMK factions?
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There are new fault lines emerging within the AIADMK, as the tug of war between the EPS-OPS faction and the TTV Dhinakaran camp plays out.

Around 35 MLAs did not turn up at Monday’s meeting called by the united AIADMK, headed by Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami to discuss the expulsion of General Sasikala VK Sasikala. Out of this were 16 Dalit MLAs.

While dominant castes like the Gounders led by EPS and the Thevars led by OPS have been holding sway in the ruling AIADMK, are Dalit MLAs finally coming together in the party to better negotiate with the warring factions?  

Despite Dalits making up the largest group in the AIADMK legislature party with 31 MLAs, their representation in the Tamil Nadu cabinet has been limited to three. As Deputy General Secretary TTV Dhinakaran woos MLAs to his camp, the question is - was the no-show by the 16 Dalit MLAs strategic? Are the Dalit MLAs in the ruling AIADMK pitting themselves against the Gounders and Thevars?

Trying to take advantage of the caste dynamics, Sasikala’s family have been proposing the name of Speaker P Dhanapal, a Dalit as their choice for Chief Minister. Essentially, if EPS is unable to prove his strength in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, in the event of a floor test, TTV and co are projecting Dhanpal as their Chief Ministerial choice.

Speaking to TNM, C Lakshmanan, Associate Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies observes, “There is nothing new or surprising with what is happening today. Everyone is using their bargaining power for their own upliftment. Like other MLAs, they are also making use of the present situation.”

He also points out that Dalits have had peddled little political influence in the state since Dravidian parties came to power.

Explaining why Dalits in the AIADMK have been unable to wield influence despite commanding sizeable membership in the party, VCK General Secretary Ravikumar says, “Dalit MLAs in the AIADMK are loyal to the party and are not loyal to the community. They realise they are not powerful to get votes and have depended on the charisma of leaders MGR and Jayalalithaa. OBC leaders, however, give priority to the community.” He observes that under Jayalalithaa, Dalits in the AIADMK have not only been denied cabinet berths, but also prominent party posts.

Professor Ramu Manivannan of the Politics and Public Administration Department of the University of Madras, however, refuses to see Monday’s political developments on caste lines. “This is a clear sign of the bridge collapsing. This shows that the porous wall that EPS and OPS are building is easily penetrable. At the end of the day, all of these MLAs have been picked up by Sasikala.”

He also wryly notes, “Only money and power can sway MLAs. They all need to stay in power and they probably don’t see much survival in the ruling faction.”   

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