Gold Armour row: Paneerselvam, Dinakaran fight it out to win over Thevars in TN
The 13-kg weighing gold armour, which Jayalalithaa donated to the Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar memorial, has now become a symbol for the feuding AIADMK factions to reiterate their loyalty to the prominent Thevar community, which has been a traditional AIADMK vote bank.
Both the TTV Dinakaran faction and O Paneerselvam faction are trying to claim custody of the golden armour, which has been kept in the Bank of India locker at Madurai so that they could win over the confidence of the traditional supporters of the party. In the prevailing confusion, the Bank of India officials have handed over the gold armour to the Madurai district Collector on Saturday.
When Jayalalithaa donated this armour in 2014, to be placed on the Muthuramalinga Thevar statue at his memorial in Ramanathapuram district, she had clear political goals. Thevar community forms a sizeable vote bank in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu and their solid support has been the main reason for the electoral triumph of AIADMK. While spending about Rs.4 crores for the gold armour, Jaya ensured continuing support of Thevar community to her party as another prominent community, the Gounders from the Kongu Nadu, Western side of Tamil Nadu drifted away from her party, mainly due to the ban on toddy by her government earlier.
Many had also seen it as a thanksgiving by Jayalalithaa to the community which stood firmly behind her despite the numerous corruption issues she faced during her first term as Chief Minister. Her once-trusted lieutenant, O Paneerselvam, who belongs to the Thevar Community, had also understood the political mileage the gold armour could get and now does not want the TTV Dinakaran faction -AIADMK (Amma)- to cash in on Thevar caste sentiments.
The Bank of India branch at Madurai, where the armour was kept, witnessed some tense moments on Friday when both the Paneerselvam group and TTV Dinakaran group approached the bank with claims of authority over the armour. As per the tradition since 2014, the armour is carried to the memorial at Ramanathapuram during Thevar Jayanthi, which falls on October 30 every year to adorn the Thevar statue. Jayalalithaa had authorised O Paneerselvam, then the party treasurer to operate the locker jointly with the trustee of the Muthuramalinga Thevar Memorial Trust.
Now with the party split and each claiming to be the original AIADMK, the bank could not hand over the armour to the joint locker holders, as Paneerselvam, according to Dinakaran group is not a party representative anymore. In the prevailing confusion, bank authorities handed over the armour to Veera Raghava Rao on Saturday morning. The armour would be now taken to Ramanathapuram and handed over to the Ramanathapuram district Collector.
Though the community interests have been caught in the crossfire between Paneerselvam and Dinakaran, no Thevar leaders have come out in support of any of the factions. Paneerselvam faction, which has recently merged with Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy group, is believed to have more Thevars on their side. Palanisamy, who is a Gounder (Kongu Vellalar), ensures support of the Gounder community to their faction. So Dinakaran's attempt to win the power to handle the gold armour is seen as a desperate move by the leader to win over the support of the Thevar community.