In an attempt to appease the powerful Nadar community in Tamil Nadu, particularly in the wake of actor Sarath Kumar’s decision to float a political party, the DMK has picked 31-year-old Radhika Selvi, MP and widow of ‘don’ Venkatesa Pannayar, to be included in the Union Council of Ministers. An official announcement said that Selvi would be sworn in as Union Minister of State on May 18 and that her portfolio has not been decided yet.

Her party colleague S Raghupathy was moved today from MoS (Home) to Environment.

The DMK grapevine has it that Chief Minister M Karunanidhi’s wife, Rajathi Ammal (mother of Kanimozhi), a Nadar herself, also played a key role in getting a ministerial berth for Selvi, who has only passed the higher secondary examination.

Selvi, from a village called Valliyoor in Tiruchendur district in south Tamil Nadu, entered politics soon after her husband’s death in September 2003 in a police encounter. The DMK gave her a ticket for contesting the 2004 Lok Sabha election in a bid to win over the Nadars, capitalising on the community’s anger against the then AIADMK regime blamed for gunning down Pannayar.

Pannayar, a rich landlord, was looked at as a ‘don’ in Tiruchendur and the port town of Tuticorin, his native place. Soon after his killing and attempts by the Nadars to project him as a community leader, Jayalalaithaa, then Chief Minister, quoting from police records, said there were 12 criminal cases, including six murders and two attempt-to-murder cases against Pannayar.

She said the encounter took place when a police team went to his apartment in Chennai for an enquiry into a complaint against him by a financier. Pannayar resisted arrest and when police broke into his apartment, he opened fire, injuring a sub-inspector, forcing the police team to fire back, Jayalalithaa said.

A short while after she participated in a public meeting in March 2004 in which DMK president Karunanidhi introduced the 15 party candidates for the Lok Sabha elections, Selvi gave birth to her son, Rakshan Achintya. She carried her month-old baby during her door-to-door campaign, hoping to cash in on sentiments following what she called the “controversial encounter death” of her husband.

The sight of the grieving widow with “kutti (junior) Pannayar” campaigning for votes and “justice” for her murdered husband, was quite evocative, helping Selvi win the election in Tiruchendur, for long a Congress bastion, with a hefty 1.81-lakh vote margin, despite local DMK functionaries boycotting her campaign in a fit of rebellion against a rookie. Source: Express

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