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Queen Victoria to Manmohan, one family rules panchayat

Panruti (Tamil Nadu), Oct. 19: Around the time Queen Victoria brought India directly under the British Crown after crushing the sepoys’ revolt, Manga Padaiyachi had become headman of Purangani’s traditional panchayat.

A century and a half on, the queen’s successors have lost their empire, but Manga’s descendants are still ruling their turf, about 10 km from here in the South Arcot area.

Over the years, they have just made themselves over from traditional chieftains into elected heads, winning every panchayat election held in their cluster of four hamlets.

The dynasty rule survived intact as the OBC Vanniyar-dominated panchayat voted in a new election last week.

Radhakrishnan Padaiyachi, the great-great-grandson of Manga, had to make one small compromise with the Constitution, though.

The man who has ruled Purangani since 1986 had to bow to the new panchayat act’s provision of reserving the headman’s post, from time to time, for the weaker sections such as women or Dalits.

So it’s his wife Rajalakshmi Ammal who contested and won the election. An upbeat Radhakrishnan said the “social solidarity” among his community, the Vanniyars, made it a cakewalk for her.

As it had always been for his father Rajamanickka, who won the first-ever panchayat election in the early 1950s.

In the days before elections were held, Rajamanickka’s father Govindasamy used to be the headman and maniy- akarar (chief revenue collector). His father, Manga, was sittrarasar (chieftain), whose ancestors had served the Chola kings who ruled centuries ago.

The Padaiyachis’ success is founded on social work and not just traditional loyalties, he insists. For instance, Radhakrishnan has enforced prohibition — both against the local arrack and India-made foreign liquor — with an iron hand.

“Nobody can bring liquor here. This has made my father popular with the womenfolk,” said Rajasekaran, one of the outgoing chief’s four sons, who keeps shuttling between home and Chennai where he works as a software engineer.

Radhakrishnan says that despite a paltry annual grant of Rs 70,000 from the government, he has managed to revolutionise water supply, pumping it out from bore-wells and carrying it through pipes to overhead tanks in all the four hamlets. He has arranged for streetlights, too.

Radhakrishnan claims to have taken no help from political parties to get things done. “I ask the people about their problems. My only aim is to serve them.”

But some villagers have recently begun grumbling about a single family continuing to be at the helm. The development has sure been lopsided. About 50 of the four hamlets’ 475 households own TV sets, but most don’t have a toilet.

With his wife reelected, the family’s priorities will be to build toilets at every home and ensure 100 per cent literacy.

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