Chennai: Major parties in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led Secular Democratic Alliance (SDA) have published their election manifestos, with the DMK, Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist) focusing many pressing issues in the Tamil Nadu, such as the agrarian crisis and National Eligibiliyt and Entrance Test (NEET). The manifestos also highlight one of the most touchy subjects in the state – the status of Tamil language.
The agrarian crisis is a major issue that has troubled the state for the past few years now. Tamil farmers were in national media spotlight when they took thier agitation to the national capital in 2017. Their innovative protest, such as shaving half their heads and moustache, eating rats and snakes etc and carrying skulls, caught the public eye. It got some respite when the Madras High Court ordered a waiver of farm loans. Later, TN farmers also participated in the Kisan-Mazdoor Sangharsh rally that was held on in New Delhi on September 2018.
Heeding the farmers’ protests, the DMK, Congress and CPI(M) have basic assured minimum price for all agricultural products.
The CPI(M) has also promised to implement the recommendations of the M S Swaminathan report and compulsory procurement of agricultural produce by the government. The key recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission reports include, distribution of ceiling-surplus and waste lands, prevention of diversion of prime agricultural land and forest to the corporate sector for non-agricultural purposes, reduction of rate of interest for crop loans to 4% with government support, etc.
While the DMK has declared that it will waive all farm loans taken by small and medium farmers if it comes to power, showcasing previous DMK rule in which the government waived farm loans, the Congress has promised to bring out a separate budget for agriculture.
On Tamil Language
The Dravidian parties have heavily invested in Tamil language politics in the past and even in present day Tamil Nadu. The state had seen anti-Hindi imposition agitations both pre- and post-Independence. In fact, this was one reason why Congress lost a foothold in this Southern state. In their manifestos, both DMK and CPI(M) have promised to make Tamil a language in Central government offices. The CPI(M) has also highlighted the importance of making Tamil mandatory in schools as well as the court language.
The exemption of Tamil Nadu from NEET is a common feature in all three manifestos. The test was strongly opposed in the state for excluding students under the state board. The state government originally considered reserving 85% seats for TN state board students, which was dismissed by the Madras High Court. The Centre did not allow any exemption for the state as well.
The anti-NEET agitation intensified after the suicide of a dalit student named Anita, who couldn’t get past the cut-off. She scored high marks in the state board exam. This portrayed her as a victim of the system. The promise to do away with NEET will surely have an impact among students and parents.
The issue of Sri Lankan Tamils has found way in both CPI(M) and DMK manifestos. Both have promised to give equal rights to Tamils living in Sri Lanka and an enquiry into the alleged war crimes that took place in the island nation.
The release of those convicted for Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination also features in the manifestos of the DMK and CPI(M), though the Congress hasn’t mentioned it.
The SD alliance has been formed to prevent the Bharatiya Janata Party and AIADMK alliance from coming to power again and to help form a secular government at the Centre,