Close on the heels of winning the Rajya Sabha poll, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has further consolidated the AIADMK by roping in two well known dalit faces from the opposition ranks - the firebrand Parithi Ilamvazhuthi of the DMK and E Ponnusamy, a former Union Minister from the PMK.
A powerful minister in the erstwhile Karunanidhi ministry, Parithi was the Dalit face of the DMK, especially in this metro, while Ponnusamy had for long occupied that space in the Vanniyar-dominant PMK. The duo was inducted into the party hours before Jayalalithaa left for Kodanadu, a day after the RS election.
This poaching of talent is seen as part of a strategy to weaken the opposition and to deny them any space to regroup. Significantly, this surprise development comes at a time when her arch rivals, DMK and the Congress, signalled their coming together as was witnessed in the RS election.
More than their very long innings in their respective parties, both Parithi, a six-time legislator, who won five on the trot, and Ponnusamy were pillars of strength for their leadership, though having fallen out with them of late.
As such, it is a loss for the DMK and the PMK that too months prior to the LS election.
When the DMK was routed in the 1991 assembly poll in the aftermath of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, Parithi won from Egmore constituency, though the poll was countermanded and held six months later. With the party patriarch M Karunanidhi resigning and the other DMK member, Selvaraj, defecting to the MDMK of Vaiko, it fell on Parithi’s shoulder to take on the then Jayalalithaa Government single handedly. In the last election he lost to a greenhorn from the DMDK, due to his rivals within the DMK playing spoilsport. Since then, he had been sulking.
In the case of Ponnusamy, he had been a friend of PMK founder S Ramadoss since college days and served the purpose of the symbolic co-option of Dalits by the PMK. The Dharmapuri anti-Dalit violence proved to be a turning point for him. He had to quit the party after the PMK’s open and vehement opposition to Dalits, which is very unusual for a party engaged in electoral politics.
The reaction of both the DMK and the PMK were on expected lines and they dismissed it as a matter of no consequence. “It will not have any impact on the party. But, it is a wrong decision that Parithi has taken. It will do him no good,” says DMK Organising Secretary T K S Elangovan, MP. According to columnist Gnani, this is part of Jayalalithaa’s strategy to weaken the opposition. “Earlier, we have witnessed the desertions in the DMDK. From the MDMK, the AIADMK hooked ‘Nanjil’ Sampath,” he explains.
However, more than anything else, these two leaders would help the AIADMK to don the pro-dalit image.