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To divide and rule

Published : Aug 03, 2002 00:00 IST



Pattali Makkal Katchi leader Dr. S. Ramadoss shocks Tamil Nadu by suggesting the bifurcation of the State.

DR. S. RAMADOSS, the founder of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), specialises in springing surprises. The first one that he came up with - a suggestion that the post of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister must be rotated on an annual basis - had no takers. The second firecracker - that a PMK nominee should be Chief Minister of Pondicherry for two and a half years followed by an All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) nominee for the rest of the term - also failed. The PMK and the AIADMK were allies in the May 2001 elections to the 33-member Pondicherry Assembly. PMK candidates were defeated in all the 10 constituencies they contested.

Ramadoss' third surprise - that Tamil Nadu, which has 29 districts, should be bifurcated and one of the new States thus formed must comprise the 13 districts of Chennai, Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur, Vellore, Tiruvannamalai, Cuddalore, Villupuram, Ariyalur, Perambalur, Namakkal, Salem, Dharmapuri and Nagapattinam, where Vannia's constitute sizable proportions of the population - has seemingly exploded on his face. (The PMK essentially represents the interests of Vanniyars, the community to which Ramadoss belongs. Ramadoss converted the Vanniyar Sangam, which he had headed, into the PMK in 1989.)

Political parties were quick to term the suggestion a "dangerous" as it aimed at dividing the State on caste lines. But Ramadoss claimed that the division would lead to faster development of the 13 backward districts. He went on to suggest the creation of "regions" to enhance administrative efficiency in order to enable the benefits of development to reach people faster and "to fulfill the aspirations of the majority of the people who feel that they have not received political power".

He gave away his game plan when he added, "If Tamil Nadu were to be divided like this, there can be three Tamil Chief Ministers, including one for Pondicherry. We can argue for Tamils' progress. If Vanniyars remain united, we can definitely capture power in 2006. Let 25 youths from each village come with me. I will convert Tamil Nadu into a land ruled by Vanniyars. I will metamorphose Tamil Nadu into the most developed State in India."

Chief Minister and AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa, who is at daggers drawn with Ramadoss, painted up his suggestion of bifurcation as a separatist demand, linked it with his support for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) struggle to carve out a separate Eelam in Sri Lanka, and projected it as a ploy to form a pan-Tamil Nadu comprising a balkanised Tamil Nadu and the northern province of Sri Lanka. Ramadoss, "unable to give up his secessionist beliefs, has come up with the suggestion of dividing Tamil Nadu on caste lines", she alleged.

Jayalalithaa said that it revealed his "fanatical caste affinity" and that the fundamental basis of his politics was caste loyalty. She asserted that his "separatist tendencies will never be allowed to reach fruition".

M. Karunanidhi, former Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president, said his party was unable to accept the PMK leader's proposal as it was "impracticable". But mere expression of such an idea was not reprehensible, he added.

Ramadoss made the demand at a conference, billed "Vanniyars' right to live", held at Uthiramerur in Kancheepuram district on July 18. The conference attracted thousands of Vanniyars. This was not the first time that the PMK had organised such a conference. In September 1992, it organised a "Tamils' right to live" meet in Chennai. It took out a rally at which slogans glorifying Dhanu, the belt-bomb assassin of Rajiv Gandhi, were raised. Jayalalithaa, who was Chief Minister then as well, wrote to Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao seeking a ban on the PMK.

If the aim of the 1992 conference was to project Ramadoss as the 'leader of the Tamil race', it failed. He then tried to make common cause with Dalits (with whom Vanniyars are, however, perennially at war). That failed too.

Ramadoss' speech was a follow-up to a resolution passed earlier at the conference. The resolution said that in order to enable the benefits of development to reach people faster, the State should be geographically divided into two. It gave a historical background on the creation of new States. There were now demands for further division of Uttar Pradesh, for the creation of Vidarbha in Maharashtra and Telengana in Andhra Pradesh, and even for the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir, it said.

Although Tamil Nadu had 12 Chief Ministers since Independence, not one of them was a Vanniyar, the resolution regretted. This despite Vanniyars forming the single largest chunk of its population. No Dalit could become Chief Minister either. Indeed, nobody from the 13 districts could become Chief Minister in the last 33 years. The resolution suggested that these 13 districts should therefore be separated and integrated into one State, and the remaining 16 into another.

Ramadoss argued that the division of States and districts into smaller entities for administrative convenience was not new. India now had 28 States against the original 15. Tamil Nadu's 13 districts had been divided into 29, he added.

Political observers see the demand as one aimed at shoring up the morale of PMK cadres. The PMK is no longer a party with positive prospects and Ramadoss' support base among Vanniyars has eroded. Defiance and dissidence have erupted. The PMK lost to the AIADMK in the Acharappakkam reserved seat in the byelection held in May. A feud erupted in the party when N.T. Shanmugam and A.K. Moorthy were appointed Union Ministers of State in the past month. Ramadoss was hard put to pacify Pu.Tha. Ilangovan, Lok Sabha member from Dharmapuri, who was chagrined by the choice of Moorthy, who is politically junior to him. There are allegations that Ramadoss is promoting his family's interests in the party. His son R. Anbumani is a puissant figure in the party.

The PMK's overtures to Jayalalithaa were rebuffed as well. Shanmugam and Moorthy, who called on her after they became Ministers, reportedly did not get a warm reception. According to informed political sources, Ramadoss suggested that they meet her because he was reportedly worried that she might invoke the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) against PMK leaders as well, as she did against Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Vaiko for his support to the LTTE (Frontline, August 2).

The PMK had become anaemic after the May 2001 Assembly elections, in which its candidates lost even in Vanniyar-dominated constituencies such as Katpadi, Villupuram and Chidambaram despite being in alliance with the AIADMK, the Congress, the Tamil Maanila Congress and the Left parties. It fared badly in the local bodies elections in October 2001. The only redeeming feature was that it could get into the Union Council of Ministers.

L. Ganesan of the Bharatiya Janata Party pointed out that naming districts after caste leaders had led to the fracturing of peace earlier. The PMK's suggestion, therefore, would create more problems. N. Varadarajan, State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), accused the PMK of raring to divide Tamil Nadu on caste lines just as Sangh Parivar outfits wanted to trifurcate Jammu and Kashmir on the basis of religion. R. Nallakannu, State secretary of the Communist Party of India, said the suggestion would endanger India's unity. Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president E.V.K.S. Elangovan described Ramadoss' citing of the division of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar as irrelevant. They were divided because they were very big States and hence suffered from uneven economic development.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Aug 03, 2002.)



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