Strange bedfellows

Published : Apr 16, 2014 12:30 IST

PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss (right) campaigning for L.K. Sudhish, the  DMDK's candidate for Salem, at Omalur in Salem district.

PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss (right) campaigning for L.K. Sudhish, the DMDK's candidate for Salem, at Omalur in Salem district.

IN Tamil Nadu, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been able to forge a third front, a ragtag combine of regional parties that profess politics on caste and ethnic lines, to challenge the two Dravidian majors, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). The organisers of this coalition, such as Tamilaruvi Manian of the Gandhiya Makkal Iyakkam, are optimistic about the alliance posting a handsome victory in the April 24 elections. The actor-turned-politician Vijayakant’s Desiya Murpoku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), Vaiko’s Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), S. Ramadoss’ Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Indya Jananayaka Katchi (IJK) and the Kongu Makkal Desiya Katchi (KMDK) have aligned themselves with the BJP, which has a vote share of 2.3 per cent in the State, to contest the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the State. The DMDK will contest 14 seats, the BJP and the PMK eight each, the MDMK seven and the IJK and the KMDK one each.

However, right from day one, the alliance, which claims to have a combined vote share of 21.99 per cent, has been torn by differences, which came into the open when the partners in Tamil Nadu turned foes in Puducherry, with the PMK candidate getting the support of the MDMK, and the BJP supporting the All India NR Congress (AINRC) candidate for the lone Lok Sabha seat in the Union Territory. The DMDK has preferred to stay neutral.

DMDK The DMDK is the dominant player in the BJP alliance.Vijayakant, who formed the party in September 2005 at a conference in Madurai, has managed to build a base for himself by attacking the DMK and the AIADMK.

The DMDK made its first foray into the electoral arena in the 2006 Assembly elections, when it contested all the 234 seats. Vijayakant contested from Vriddachalam. He and his wife, Premalatha, drove the campaign machinery on the vote-for-change plank. Vijayakant emerged as the lone winner in his party but the DMDK’s vote share of 10 per cent came as a surprise to political pundits. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the DMDK once again went alone and contested all the 39 seats. Although the party did not win a single seat, it polled 31 lakh votes, registering a vote share of 10.07 per cent. In many constituencies, the DMDK polled more than the winning margins of the first two candidates, thus making it a key player in future political formations.After a series of debacles in byelections, the DMDK decided to ally itself with the AIADMK in the 2011 Assembly elections. The DMDK won 29 of the 41 seats it contested. Vijayakant, who got elected from Rishivandiyam, had claimed at that time that he helped the AIADMK post a sweeping victory over the DMK, which lost its main opposition party status.

PMK The PMK is another party with a significant vote base, especially in the northern districts of the State where Vanniyars, the caste group to which Ramadoss belongs, are dominant.

Ramadoss, who was a small-time physician at a village in Villupuram district, floated the PMK in 1989 as a political party for Vanniyars, a major social bloc which the DMK and the AIADMK wooed at election time. The party has its origins in the Vanniyar Sangam, a forum that Ramadoss set up for the educational and social uplift of the community. The Sangam organised a violent agitation across the State in 1987 demanding reservation for Vanniyars. Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran acted firmly to put down the violence that had cut off the State capital, Madras (now Chennai), from the rest of the State. Many lives were lost in the agitation.

Ramadoss realised that only political mobilisation would help Vanniyars achieve their objectives. The PMK was thus visualised as an alternative to the two Dravidian parties. The PMK contested from select constituencies in the 1991 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections but drew a blank. However, it recorded its arrival on the political scene with a vote share of 5.78 per cent. In 1996, the PMK allied with a splinter group of the Congress and fought the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. The party won four Assembly seats.

It became clear that Ramadoss had emerged as an “indispensable inevitability” in the game of political opportunism. The DMK and the AIADMK, who in general command a vote share of 25 to 28 per cent each, saw an opportunity to gain the winning edge by allying themselves with the PMK.

The PMK used the opportunity to shift camps in every election. The party, which claimed to be rooted in “Periyar” E.V. Ramasamy’s ideology of rationalism and social justice, showed no inhibition in joining the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. It won four seats and a ministerial berth in the A.B. Vajpayee government.

When the AIADMK, which was a part of the NDA, walked out of the alliance and the government, the BJP roped the DMK into its fold for the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. The DMK-PMK combine won 26 seats, with the PMK winning five of the seven seats it contested. But in the 2001 Assembly elections, the PMK deserted the DMK and returned to the AIADMK and won 20 of the 27 seats it contested. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the PMK did not hesitate to shift its loyalty to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) along with the DMK. It won five seats in Tamil Nadu and the lone Puducherry seat. The PMK continued in the DMK alliance for the 2006 Assembly elections and won 16 seats.

However, this frequent shifting of allegiance backfired in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The PMK aligned with the AIADMK-led front but lost all the six seats it contested in Tamil Nadu and the lone Puducherry seat. Ramadoss misread the mood of the electorate once again when he joined the DMK-led alliance for the 2011 Assembly elections. The PMK won only three of the 30 seats it contested.

The PMK then joined hands with the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), a Dalit outfit, and the two dabbled in Tamil nationalism. It was an unusual alliance because the northern districts of Tamil Nadu had witnessed many Vanniyar-Dalit clashes.

Ramadoss was desperate to shore up the sagging image of the PMK when, in Dharmapuri, a Dalit youth and a Vanniyar girl eloped, sparking riots, which in turn fuelled hatred between Vanniyars and Dalits. Ramadoss mobilised the support of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) under the “Social Democratic Front”.

Thus he was able to consolidate the majority of Vanniyars behind the PMK, besides turning the OBCs also against Dalits, who were emerging as a major threat to Vanniyar supremacy.

Ramadoss even declared at the party’s general council meeting before the current round of elections that the PMK would lead the OBCs on the caste plank. He vowed to abandon the Dravidian and national parties. He announced the party’s candidates for various constituencies 150 days before the election schedule was announced. But all that turned out be mere bluster.

His son Anbumani Ramadoss took the lead in making the PMK a part of the BJP alliance.

MDMK The other prominent member of the BJP alliance is the MDMK, founded by Kalingathupatti V. Gopalsamy alias Vaiko. Vaiko was the second leader to be expelled from the DMK after M.G..Ramachandran, who founded the AIADMK after his expulsion from the DMK in 1971. Vaiko had been an active member of the DMK since his college days and was at the forefront of the anti-Hindi agitation. He was detained in prison during the Emergency. He was rewarded with a Rajya Sabha seat in 1978 for the loyalty shown to the party chief, M. Karunanidhi. He emerged as the party’s leading spokesperson.

But his appetite for adulation was frowned upon in a party that was fast slipping into dynastic mode, with Karunanidhi’s younger son, M.K. Stalin, emerging as its future leader and elder son, M.K. Alagiri, being assigned the “Madurai job” in the party down south, despite the presence of senior leaders.

When the “first family’s” grip over the party’s affairs started to tighten, Vaiko’s emergence from the ranks was seen as a threat to the heir apparent. Then came his controversial visit to Jaffna, Sri Lanka, in 1989 and his interaction with Velupillai Prabakaran, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The party distanced itself from the trip, and Karunanidhi became openly critical of Vaiko.

There was a clamour within the party for disciplinary action against him. Vaiko precipitated the issue by participating in a public meeting in Madurai in 1993 to explain to the people his predicament in the party. He then had the support of a senior party functionary, Pon Muthuramalingam, who is today the DMK candidate in Theni. The meeting was held despite the party withholding permission for it.

Pressure increased on Vaiko, and the breaking point came when a few DMK members immolated themselves, and Vaiko accompanied their corteges to their native places. Irked by these developments, the party expelled him. Vaiko floated the MDMK in 1996.The MDMK opened its electoral battle in alliance with the Left parties in the 1996 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. Vaiko lost both the Sivakasi Lok Sabha and Vilathikulam Assembly seats despite his popularity among the voters in the southern districts.

In 1998, the MDMK aligned itself with the AIADMK-led alliance for the Lok Sabha elections. But when the AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa brought down the Vajpayee government at the Centre, Vaiko snapped ties with her and joined hands with the DMK in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. The DMK and the MDMK were part of the UPA in the 2004 elections.

But unhappy with the DMK’s “big brother” attitude, Vaiko left the UPA. In the 2006 Assembly elections, he once again aligned himself with the AIADMK. (Incidentally, Jayalalithaa had him arrested under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) in July 2002 for openly supporting the LTTE.) He joined the AIADMK front in the 2009 elections and drew a blank. The MDMK boycotted the 2011 Assembly elections. It has been an arduous journey for the MDMK, with leaders such as ‘Gingee’ N. Ramachandran, L. Ganesan and now Nanjil K. Sampath deserting it. Vaiko’s critics say that he has compromised his ideologies and priorities by aligning his party with the BJP. While he is a staunch supporter of an independent Tamil Eelam and the Sethusamudram Channel Project, the BJP is averse to both.

P.T. and VCK

Two other parties that find relevant space in Dravidian politics are the Puthiya Thamilagam (P.T.) and the VCK, both Dalit outfits.

The P.T., led by Dr K. Krishnasamy, works among Pallars in the southern districts, while Thol. Tirumavalavan’s VCK is concentrating on the northern districts where Parayars, a Dalit subsect, are the predominant Dalit group. The two parties have been fighting caste oppression since the 1990s.

After testing their electoral chances individually and independently, they preferred to forge alliances with the two major Dravidian parties. The coming elections see them both in the DMK camp.

R. Ilangovan

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