Tamil Nadu is surely feeling the heat this December as parties in the state are gearing for the upcoming 2021 Assembly elections. Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) is presently contesting the elections with the AIADMK-BJP alliance.
Recently, their agitation for 20 percent compartmental reservation for Vanniyars, garnered a lot of attention. Analysts believe that though they are a small party, their influence is quite significant, considering how they can consolidate community votes.
How crucial is the PMK for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and will they be the swing factor in the upcoming elections? The Quint decodes.
What Is PMK and Why Is It Crucial for AIADMK ?
Paattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) was founded by S Ramadoss in 1989 as a political outfit for the Vanniyars (OBC), a dominant caste in northern Tamil Nadu.
Ahead of the 2004 elections, PMK joined the Democratic Progressive Alliance, which included the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Indian National Congress (INC), the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Indian Union Muslim League.
The PMK bagged a significant vote share in the elections at the state and Centre helping the United Progressive Alliance ( UPA-I ) form the government. In mid 2008, the relationship between the DMK and the PMK soured, leading to the ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu severing its ties with the PMK.
On 26 March 2009, the PMK joined the AIADMK-led front and left the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
The PMK contested in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA, and its candidate Anbumani Ramadoss won from the Dharmapuri Lok Sabha constituency.
PMK’s 20 Percent Demand
After over three decades, the PMK recently revived its long-standing demand for 20 percent exclusive reservation for Vanniyars.
The Vanniyars, also known as Vanniya Kula Kshatriyas, are among the 35 plus castes that fall under the Most Backward Classes (MBC) in Tamil Nadu. Northern Tamil Nadu, including Vellore, Ranipet, Cuddalore, Kancheepuram, Chengalpet, Tiruvallur and Villupuram districts, is considered the heartland of the Vanniyars. It was the Vanniyar Sangam that grew into a political party – the PMK – in 1989.
In 1989, DMK’s Karunanidhi created a separate section called ‘Most Backward Classes’ with 108 castes, including Vanniyars. They were given 20 percent reservation, along with the Denotified Communities. The Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the unreserved communities, the Backward Classes (BCs) and the MBCs account for 78 percent of the population and Vanniyars constitute around 13 percent.
Now, the party claims that the existing reservation is not sufficient and that community needs 20 percent reservation separately.
But if an exclusive quota is given, instead of competing within the 20 percent quota for MBCs, Vanniyars’ share will come down to 8.33 percent.
In Quest for Reservation, PMK Returns To Its Aggressive 1987 Mode
In the first week of December, the party staged demonstrations in front of the TNPSC office when protests took a violent turn, with cadre pelting trains with stones.
This takes us back to September 1987, when the party held agitations and during those protests, members pelted stones, fell trees and blocked roads. Things took an ugly turn when over 21 Vanniyar members died due to police firing. At the time, it was the AIADMK government headed by the MGR in power. In honour of the members who died in the protests, the PMK observes 17 September every year as ‘Veera Vanakka Naal’.
Many analysts said that after years of attempting to project itself as a progressive party for all communities, agitating over a demand only for the welfare of Vanniyars would only cement its image as a caste-based party.
“This stunt, (which) they are doing after three decades, is definitely going to cost the AIADMK a lot of votes, especially of the Dalit community. Their loyalty will lie with the AIADMK only, but they need to tread carefully so that they don’t lose to the DMK-VCK alliance.’Ravindran Duraisamy, Political Analyst
Caste Wise Survey: PMK’s Key Demand During Alliance Talks
This time, the ruling AIADMK under Edappadi K Palaniswami has announced to set up a committee to gather caste-wise quantifiable data in the state.
Interestingly, caste-wise survey was one of the 10 demands put forth by the PMK during the alliance talks that happened in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. This move by the AIADMK is seen as a knee-jerk reaction to pacify the PMK.
Why Is This Caste Wise Survey Important?
The British began taking census in India from 1881 and until 1931, where it included the caste category. But after that, caste was not included except for SCs and STs. The caste-wise census helps not only for reservation but also to allocate budget. In 2011, the government carried out a socio-economic survey and the report was submitted to the AIADMK government in 2016, which has been reportedly not made public till now.
In 2017, the government constituted a committee headed by Justice S Rohini, to sub-categorise the Other Backward Classes (OBC). In 2018, the then Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the government will include caste in the 2021 census. However, it has still not been implemented.
Constantly Changing Allegiances
The PMK has been known to constantly jump ship over the last two decades. In 2001, they allied with the AIADMK and in 2006 with the DMK.
In 2011, they joined the DMK-led alliance, which included the VCK, but lost. In 2016, the PMK decided to contest alone, and did not manage to win even a single seat.
This election is crucial for the BJP, which is seeking to make inroads in Tamil Nadu by targeting the PMK’s voters and poaching its cadre.
Analysts believe while many in Vanniyar dominant areas are in favour of the party’s demand for 20 percent exclusive quote for the community, they are sceptical of the PMK’s intentions, due to their alliance with the BJP.
Signs of Returning To DMK?
Since end of November, news reports have pointed to a possibility of an alliance between the DMK and the PMK ahead of the 2021 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. Reports suggested this will force the Congress and the VCK to form an alliance.
However, when The Quint spoke to sources in the DMK and the PMK, they confirmed that while the two sides did hold talks, the talks have not been successful and many are even using this as a way to create tension for the Dravidian party.
The Arch Rivals: PMK vs VCK
The DMK needs the VCK in their alliance to focus on the Dalit votes in north Tamil Nadu.
The two parties are political rivals, mainly due to the communities they represent. They enjoy support of the people in the northern part of the state. While the PMK stands for the Vanniyars, who constitute 25 percent of the state's population, the VCK is a party that works for Scheduled Caste communities.
There have been many instances when the dominant Vanniyar community has been accused of inflicting caste-based violence against the Dalit community. PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss was booked for allegedly inciting caste enmity in 2014.
This election will decide the future of the PMK in the state, many analysts believe in. Will they prove their mettle by winning over their community’s vote bank, or will they fail in making a dent? 2021 is going to change the course of political systems in the state for sure.