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Close on the heels of the BJP changing its politics in Tamil Nadu from playing up Hindu-ness to now taking up Tamil Nationalism, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) too has switched to a Tamil nationalist platform from its earlier Vanniyar community plank, which did not fetch it any gains in the 2021 Assembly elections.
The BJP recently demanded that Tamil be made the medium of instruction in higher education in the state. The party also hosted the Kasi Tamil Sangamam in an effort to endear themselves to Tamilians.
For the BJP, this is a wholly new strategy but for the PMK it is actually a return to one of its basic tenets voiced in 1989 when the party was formed. When the PMK came into being as a political party, it gave equal importance to the development of Vanniyars, a backward community in north Tamil Nadu and a few delta districts, and also advocated that Tamil be made the sole medium of instruction in the state. The party also supported the demand for a separate homeland for Sri Lankan Tamils.
The PMK started putting all its eggs into one basket — that of representing the Vanniyar community — just before the 2021 Assembly elections. It raised the demand for separate reservation for the Vanniyars within the MBC quota, and even presented petitions pressing for this demand. The party also held road blockade agitations in many places. The AIADMK government at the time, headed by Edappadi K Palaniswami, then announced 10.5 per cent reservation for the Vanniyars within the MBC quota just before the elections.
For the BJP, this is a wholly new strategy but for the PMK it is actually a return to one of its basic tenets voiced in 1989 when the party was formed
The PMK stressed that it settled for just 23 seats in the AIADMK alliance because the AIADMK government had implemented the 10.5 per cent reservation for Vanniyars. During the election campaign too, the PMK said it had made a sacrifice in accepting a small number of seats, for the sake of the welfare of Vanniyars which it held above other things.
However, the PMK didn’t reap the gains it expected. Quite the opposite in fact, as the party won only 5 seats with a vote share of just 3.8 per cent, which is below the 5.32 per cent vote share it got in the 2016 Assembly elections. The PMK had contested that earlier election alone, projecting Anbumani Ramadoss as its chief ministerial candidate. The 2021 election results showed that the PMK’s traditional vote bank of Vanniyars did not support the party despite its efforts to get the government to set apart a 10.5 per cent quota in reservations for the community.
So, now the PMK has turned back its attention toward the larger plank of Tamil nationalism. The party has sought 80 per cent reservation for Tamils in private sector jobs in the state, and has also raised the demand of a separate homeland for Tamils in Sri Lanka again.
In a series of tweets on Heroes Day, November 27, which is observed to remember the sacrifices of LTTE cadre who fought for an independent homeland for Tamils in Sri Lanka, PMK founder S Ramadoss demanded a referendum among the island Tamils for a separate Tamil Eelam and appealed to the Indian government to take steps in this direction.
The party, however, has not shown any consistency in its support to the island Tamils. When the PMK was a part of the government at the Centre, it did not raise its voice for the Sri Lankan Tamils. Anbumani Ramadoss’s silence when he was a minister in the UPA government, at the time when the Sri Lankan government launched a military offensive in 2009 against its Tamil citizens, alienated him and his party from Tamil nationalist parties.
As a Union Minister, Anbumani did not raise the demand for Eelam in Parliament or any other forum. But after losing power, he took part in meetings at international fora such as the United Nations and demanded an international probe into the massacre of thousands of Lankan Tamils as well as a referendum on a separate homeland for the island Tamils.
The party has sought 80 per cent reservation for Tamils in private sector jobs in the state, and has also raised the demand of a separate homeland for Tamils in Sri Lanka again
Besides the Lankan Tamils’ issue, the PMK is also demanding 80 per cent reservation for Tamils in private sector jobs in the state. Citing a promise made by Industries Minister Thangam Thennarasu that the DMK government would try to get jobs for Tamils at Tata Electronics in Hosur, Anbumani said only 2,348 jobs out of the 18,000 jobs had been provided for Tamils. He also asked why the State government was making requests to companies instead of enacting a law that would mandate that 80 per cent jobs had to be given to Tamils in private companies in the State.
Though Anbumani had recently announced that the PMK would lead its own alliance in the next Assembly elections, it faces a big dilemma in the 2024 Parliament elections. The party must be accepted by the DMK as an ally or remain with the BJP if it wants to be in one of the major fronts at the national level. In the very first Parliament elections the PMK contested in 1989, it had obtained 5.82 per cent votes. In 1991 too, even though it ploughed a lone furrow, it polled 5.14 per cent votes. By taking up Tamil nationalist issues, the PMK could be hoping to garner the votes of the people of all communities. By contesting alone or leading an alliance separate from the ruling and main opposition parties in the 2024 Parliament elections, the PMK aims to show improvement in its vote bank and emerge as an alternative to the AIADMK which is facing a leadership crisis.
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