Chennai: As elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly near, the political scene is heating up amid the breaking and forming of electoral alliances.
The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), after 20 years, is once again set to align with the ruling AIADMK in the Assembly polls. In the2019 Lok Sabha polls, it had aligned with AIADMK but drew a blank.
Let’s take a look at PMK’s shifting alliances and where it stands in Tamil Nadu’s political scene today.
The PMK was founded in 1989 by S Ramadoss as an electoral face for the dominant Vanniyar caste. The Vanniyars wield significant political clout in the northern districts of Kanchipuram, Vellore, Dharmapuri, Salem and Thiruvanamalai. In the region, the party is known for violence and hatred against dalit communities for political gains.
The Vanniyars were formerly known by the name ‘Palli’, a caste categorised as Shudra. By 1931, the community ensured the removal of the term ‘Palli’ from the Madras census, which was replaced with ‘Vanniya Kula Kshatriya’. Over time, with the development of the state and through political influence, a large section of the Vanniyar caste has grown from being a labouring caste to a land-owning agricultural caste in rural Tamil Nadu.
The PMK claims that the Vanniyar caste composes 25% of the state’s total population. However, there are varying claims. A source says that a 1985 study found the Vanniyar population at 13%, while and another says that the 2011 census estimated the Vanniyar population at 22%. However, the fact remains that the PMK polled only 5.42% of votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and failed to win even a single seat.
PMK’s founder S. Ramadoss is unhappy that three decades after forming the party, it only has the support of 5% of the electorate and is struggling to seem relevant. He recently asked the party cadre to do a lot more groundwork and follow the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) model. He wants the PMK to win at least 60 Assembly seats on their own in the upcoming elections.
The party’s vision is to see a Vanniyar as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, and is rooting for the founder’s son, Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, who was a Central minister in the Manmohan Singh cabinet. Toward this end and to expand the party and the community’s political clout, PMK has often ambitiously changed gears in search of political power at the state-level as well.
The constant changes in political alliances and lack of a wider vision have left the party with no seats in the state and Centre, say political observers. In the 2001 Assembly elections, PMK won 20 seats, but at present it has zero sitting seats in Parliament and the Tamil Nadu Assembly.
FREQUENT ALLIANCE SHIFTS
The frequent electoral shifts have left PMK with an image of being an “unreliable” ally. There was a time when the party was known to bring its vote share to an alliance, leveraging the winning seats, and swaying the alliance to victory. But, since the 2009 electoral loss, it has been a rough ride for the party, and it has not been able to revive its waning significance.
In the 2001 Assembly elections, PMK was in the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)-led alliance. However, over the next two state elections -- 2006 and 2011 -- it shifted its electoral alliance to Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Along with the alliance losing the elections, PMK’s seats fell from 18 to three in 2011.
In the 2016 elections, PMK contested independently. The party appeared to shed its Vanniyar colour and attempted to create a broad-based third front as an alternative to the two major dravidian parties - DMK and AIADMK, but it yielded no numerical results. The party ambitiously fielded candidates in all the 234 Assembly seats and lost deposits in 212 constituencies.
PMK’s Assembly Election History
After 20 years, the PMK has once again joined hands with AIADMK in the upcoming Assembly elections.
The alliance shifts were also made in the Lok Sabha elections. PMK was with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in 1999, and shifted to the Congress-led UPA in 2004. After losing attempts at a third front in 2009, the party shifted back to the NDA in 2014 and 2019 polls.
One reason for it waning influence is because PMK has gone full circle in the past two decades with its political vision, say political observers. During its formation, the party was the electoral face of the Vanniyar community. Realising that it would never gain majority in the state by banking only on Vanniyar votes, it began expanding its horizon.
For a brief period, the party propounded the politics of a pan-Tamil identity. It also maintained cordial relations with the dalit liberation party Vidudhalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), with the parties mutually extending electoral support in the past.
However, PMK started taking recourse to caste violence after its defeat in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and poor performance in the 2011 Assembly elections, according to political observers. The 2012 Dharmapuri violence was stated to be the gory outcome of its defeat, when PMK members reportedly incited dominant caste people against dalits, leading to violence and large-scale looting of belongings and damage to property.
The violence had its dirty gains. Anbumani Ramadoss won from the Dharmapuri constituency in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the only seat the party won that year.
In its attempt to stay relevant, the PMK also attempted an anti-dalit and other backward class (OBC) front in 2012 with the intention to emerge as a champion of the backward classes. The OBC front failed to become a consolidated political power centre.
In the 2021 elections, the PMK has once again changed its political vision and has gone back to primarily banking on its Vanniyar identity.
20% RESERVATION FOR VANNIYARS
However, this time round, the PMK seems to be gearing up its political stunts to better its bargaining power in the AIADMK-BJP alliance. The party began holding protests against the AIADMK-led state government, demanding 20% reservations for Vanniyars in government jobs ahead of alliance talks. Party cadres were even seen pelting stones at running trains near Chengalpet.
Last week, the party casually modified their demand from an exclusive 20% quota to 20% for vanniyars within the Most Backward Classes (MBC) quota. The party justified this change saying that though PMK’s parent organisation, Vanniyar Sangam, was instrumental in forming the MBC reservation, other castes in the MBCs should also be given representation. PMK believes that the Vanniyar community did not get the expected benefits out of the MBC quota as the category comprises 108 castes.
The AIADMK government, however, said it was awaiting a court decision before implementing the PMK’s demand for Vanniyar reservations. To facilitate the court with necessary data, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami announced the formation of a commission to conduct a caste survey in the State on December 1, 2020.
Incidentally, the PMK had also been giving feelers to the Opposition DMK alliance, but apparently the presence of its rival Viduthalai Siruthaigal Katchi (VCK), is a big roadblock in its way, as VCK leader and MP Thol Thirumalavan has made it clear that they can never be part of any alliance that has PMK or BJP.