Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami institutes a commission to carry out a caste survey after the PMK, its alliance partner, demands 20 per cent reservation for the Vanniyar community

Published : December 01, 2020 22:14 IST

Anbumani Ramadoss (second from right, in brown shirt) meeting Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami on December 1. Photo: The Hindu Archives

A day after the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) launched an indefinite agitation to secure 20 per cent reservation for Vanniyars, the caste group that constitutes the party’s base, it refocussed the stir to attack the main opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

In a series of tweets today, PMK pilloried the DMK for “betraying” the Vanniyars, thereby making it clear that it still remained in the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) alliance. S. Ramadoss, PMK founder, claimed that M. Karunanidhi, DMK leader and former Chief Minister, added 15 “forward castes” in the category of Backward Classes without the recommendation of the Backward Classes Commission. This was a betrayal, he tweeted.

In another tweet, he noted that the Sattanathan Commission (1971), which went into the question of reservation for Backward Classes, recommended that 33 per cent be the quantum of reservation for the Backward Classes. But Karunanidhi ignored this recommendation, thereby betraying the Vanniyars. In attacking the DMK, the PMK has ensured that the AIADMK government is not put to serious embarrassment over its agitation.

The change in tactic comes after a series of moves by the AIADMK government soon after the launch of the agitation. Hours after Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) leader, met Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami on December 1 and pressed for 20 per cent reservation in education and jobs for the Vanniyar community, the AIADMK government announced the formation of a commission to conduct of a caste survey in the State.

The party organised an agitation in Chennai in support of its demand. Some elements in the party started stoning trains and destroying public property. The AIADMK government, in a second move to rein in the PMK, lodged complaints against all party seniors and those who indulged in violence under various sections of the Indian Penal Code. The second day of the agitation all but fizzled out in the face of the government’s action, leading to a change in strategy by the PMK.

Earlier, justifying the move to form a commission, the Chief Minister said in a statement to the media: : “Many political parties and social organisations have demanded that a caste survey be taken up in the State…. The 69 per cent reservation [validity] case is pending in the Supreme Court and it is necessary to gather data to defend it…. Quantifiable data on caste [in Tamil Nadu] is essential because of these reasons. Only statistics on caste will reveal the caste composition in the State.” He left out any reference to the PMK, a party with a strong base among the Vanniyars. A PMK spokesperson told a television news channel that the party had been demanding a caste survey for a long time. But, he said, the demand for 20 per cent reservation for Vanniyars still stood.

When the Supreme Court disposed off the case relating to Tamil Nadu’s 69 per cent reservation in jobs and education for the backward and oppressed classes in 2010, it had directed the Backward Classes Commission to collect data to justify the reservation. In June 2014, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the Tamil Nadu government on a petition filed by two aspiring medical students challenging the State’s 69 per cent reservation policy in educational institutions and government jobs on the grounds that it violated their fundamental right to education. The petition questioned the State legislature’s competence to pass the Tamil Nadu Backward Classes, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions and of Appointments or Posts in the Service under the State) Act, 1993 (Tamil Nadu Act 45 of 1994).

The constitution of a commission is not significant in itself. Since Tamil Nadu is heading for a Legislative Assembly election in 2021, it will not be possible to take up the survey soon. The government is expected to name the head and members of the commission, set the terms of reference and also set a time frame. A realistic time frame will be two years, since the election process will conclude only by May 2021, by which time the same staff will have to begin the work on the Census. The Census will be complicated by the presence of the new elements introduced by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government relating to the national population register.

PMK’s demand

In a tweet, Dr S. Ramadoss, PMK’s founder, pointed to the reservation systems in neighbouring States and said that it was only in Tamil Nadu that major communities were placed in two broad categories, the Backward Classes and the Most Backward Classes, for the purpose of granting reservation. But this was not the case in other States, where each community was identified and reservation set apart. “Different communities are at different stages [of progress]. Real social justice is granting reservations on the basis of this reality,” he said. The PMK is part of the AIADMK alliance in the State, but has been critical of the ruling party over some of its actions.

In some ways, the demand for reservation indicates the PMK distancing itself from a larger platform that it sought to occupy after the 2016 Legislative Assembly election in the State. In that election, the party went it alone, projecting Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss as the chief ministerial candidate, with the tagline “‘Maatram, munnetram, Anbumani” (change, progress, Anbumani). But the gamble did not work and the PMK did not win a single seat. After introspection, the party appears to have decided to go back to its roots and retrieve an old demand, that of reservation for the Vanniyar community, which was only partly met after it launched an agitation in the late 1980s. Ramadoss made a reference to this too, and said that Vanniyars, though a major community, were clubbed with 108 other castes for the benefit of reservation. This was an aberration which needed to be corrected.

The PMK’s demand for 20 per cent reservation to the Vanniyar, community will lead to similar demands from other powerful caste groups. But the more important issue for the PMK is to remain relevant and prove that it is a major force ahead of the crucial seat-sharing talks with its alliance partner, the AIADMK. In the out-going Assembly, the PMK does not have a single member. The PMK wants to make sure that in the next Assembly, it will be a force to reckon with inside the House.

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