Base threatened, Jayalalithaa stuns Ramadoss

Semi Column

S Ramadoss, the doctor who shepherded the Vanniyars to emerge as a powerful regional politician, now finds himself, his son, personal aide, right-hand man, Man Friday et al behind bars, with slim chances of getting out soon. It is quite likely that the veteran politician expected this outcome, but he sure didn't expect it this early.

Ramadoss did not do anything new to attract this retribution; what changed was the opponent at the other corner. Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, whose prisons have hosted even bigger rivals, did give an indication of what was in store, but the swiftness with which she moved has surprised all.

Sidelined after consecutive defeats, Ramadoss's restructure plan ahead of the 2014 general election involved consolidating caste Hindus by appealing to their baser instinct opposition to the rise of the Dalits.

It found echo among other caste Hindu outfits, leading to the formation of the All Community Federation that Ramadoss stitched together. This pitted caste Hindus against Dalits, often ending in violent confrontations, like the Dharmapuri violence.

This was not just an administrative challenge for the AIADMK government, but a potential political threat. The southern parts of the state are the party's stronghold, helping it offset weaknesses in the north, and to an extent, in urban constituencies. The support the AIADMK enjoys from the backward classes, led by the Thevar community, plays a crucial role in this.

With the entire PMK leadership behind bars, and likely to remain there for some time, there is no leader of stature to even issue statements. The PMK walkout from the Assembly over the issue, in fact, involved all of one MLA, its other two are in prison.

In isolating Ramadoss, Jayalalithaa has taken a calculated risk. If it plays out as she has planned, this would earn her accolades from Dalit leaders without losing her the party's backward class base, and would also dissuade other communities from joining the Vanniyars in protest.

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