“This election is all about caste. And the AIADMK’s decision to conduct a caste census and allocate 10.5 per cent sub-reservation for Vanniyars is a masterstroke.”A source close to the All Indian Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) told The Quint
This is the first Assembly election in Tamil Nadu which will be fought without J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi who died in 2016 and 2018 respectively. The former was a caste Hindu woman who was seen by some sections as a saviour of the oppressed, and the latter an atheist who fought for reservation for the oppressed castes.
Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) who is now leading the AIADMK has taken a different approach. He has announced policy level changes to favour his allies.
Perfect Timing For a Calculative Strategy
In the last three months, EPS announced several election sops.
He first consolidated seven Scheduled Caste sub-castes under one SC category, titled Devendrakula Vellalar. He then offered sub-caste reservation for the Vanniyars within the Most Backward Classes (MBC) category.
The Vanniyar caste members were given 10 per cent reservation within the MBC category which gets 20 per cent reservation in educational institutions and government jobs. That is, half of the MBC reservation will now go to the Vanniyars.
De-notified tribes were given 7.5 per cent reservation within the MBC category and 2.5 per cent reservation was extended to the rest of the castes within the MBC fold.
EPS made these announcements between December 2020 and January 2021. The timing is quite significant. This was ahead of the release of ousted AIADMK secretary VK Sasikala from prison. This was also when the DMK was using every opportunity to target AIADMK for its association with ‘divisive politics driven by the BJP.’
“EPS was waiting for the right time and he is quite shrewd as he made these announcements not too close to the elections,” a source close to the AIADMK told The Quint.
“EPS knew that he had to appease several communities as he was being questioned over his association with the BJP. It is only a small section of elite Hindus who are wholeheartedly welcoming the saffron party. So he delivered this masterstroke of a caste census that has made oppressed communities feel that he is there for them all.”A Source to The Quint
Senior journalist Sandhya Ravishankar explained that a calculative strategy is evident even in the announcement of candidates, as the party is aiming to reach out to not just prominent castes such as Mukalathors or Gounders.
The first list of candidates that was released by AIADMK had six names : EPS is a Gounder, O Pannerselvam is Thevar, S P Shanmuganathan is Nadar, C Ve Shanmugam is Vanniyar, Jayakumar is from the fishing community which is an MBC caste and Thenmozhi is a Devendrakula Vellalar. It is such clear caste signalling by the party.Sandhya Ravishankar, senior journalist
EPS’ Trump Card: Alliance with PMK
The sub-quota reservation was granted for the Vanniyars to appease the alliance partner Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), who had threatened to walk out of the AIADMK alliance.
The votes of the Vanniyar community is quite crucial as they form at least 15 per cent of the state’s population.
The PMK has been representing the Vanniyars since the 1980s. The party takes credit for succeeding in making former Chief Minister Karunanidhi create MBC as a new category of reservation. Once 20 per cent reservation was extended to the MBC category, the Vanniyars claimed that its benefits eluded their community because De-notified Tribes were also a part of he fold.
PMK's Renewed Support Among Voters
In 2001 PMK contested in the AIADMK coalition and in 2006 and 2011 they contested along with the DMK. In 2016 PMK went solo and didn’t manage to win even a single seat.
In 2019, PMK partnered with the AIADMK-BJP coalition for the Lok Sabha elections, but the DMK won 38 out of 39 seats.
“After a series of defeats, PMK had no commanding power over their own vote bank. So the easiest thing to do was to demand reservation within reservation. Rationally, this should have been passed only after the caste census is done and the data is available in public domain.”Lakshmanan, Associate Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies
A source said, “EPS was keen to cement the message that he has exercised his authority to fulfill promises. This has improved his chance of a win.”
When asked whether EPS’ favour to the PMK has angered other communities, Professor Lakshmanan said that many “have felt left out, but the media narrative and projection by political parties has helped build a very positive image”.