In the 1980s, Tamil Nadu was rocked by protests by the vanniyar community that was demanding, among other things, exclusive reservation for their community. Vanniyar organisations — a numerous, largely agrarian backward class group concentrated in northern and western Tamil Nadu — launched a series of agitations.
To quell the agitations that often spiralled into violence, the government ordered a crack down. In December of 1988, the police fired on demonstrators in the village of Mottankurichi in Dharmapuri district. Vanniar organisations say that more than 20 died in various incidents of police firing, while in Mottankurichi, locals say, at least three people died.
Mottankurichi, in many ways, is symbolic of what has happened since then. The political party, Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) that emerged out of those agitations has sought to represent the vanniar community, even while seeking to forge links with other communities and acquire a pan-Tamil Nadu image.
Over the years, the party has allied with other political parties and tasted political success, with Anbumani, the son of its leader Ramadoss, serving as Union minister. Seeing an erosion in support among its core caste group, the party went alone in the 2016 Assembly elections and demonstrated a vote base of some 5%.
As part of the NDA, the PMK won one seat in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, with Anbumani winning in Dharmapuri. After the election, he adopted Mottankurichi as part of the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana and promised to create smart schools, medical facilities and other infrastructure facilities in the village. He assured that Mottankurichi would be a model village.
When The Federal went to Mottankurichi village recently to take stock of the work done by Anbumani, people were reluctant, even hostile. They suspected this reporter was a PMK worker on a recce. But they opened up after some convincing.
“After PMK came to politics, we believed that Ramadoss and Anbumani Ramadoss would do something for our people here. So, in 2014 Lok Sabha election, as they contested in the NDA alliance, we decided to give them a chance. Soon after becoming MP, Anbumani also announced that he has adopted our village and would make it a model village. But, nothing much has happened till now, except two LED street lights in the Mottankuruchi village panchayat,” said M Shanmugam, a Mottankurichi farmer.
“He promised to resolve the drinking water scarcity in the village. It’s been five years since he gave the assurance. We still do not get proper drinking water in Nathamedu, a village in the Mottankurichi vpanchayat. So, why should we vote for him again?” Shanmugam asked.
No jobs despite good education
Near the local temple, a group of young men said Anbumani had failed to deliver on his promise to give them jobs. “Anbumani promised to get us a job either in the government sector or in the private sector by conducting job fairs in our village. This is a small village with a few thousand people. We have to trudge to Dharmapuri town to attend college. But, even after getting proper education, we have no job opportunities,” said M Santhosh (name changed), an MSc, BEd graduate.
The youth were planning to go to the nearest Internet browsing centre nearly seven kilometres away to apply for a job in the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB). “We are working as daily-wage labourers in Dharmapuri town and nearby farms. We need to have a proper income if we want to get married. That’s why we are going to apply for TNEB jobs for which the required qualification is Class 5, but the salary would be Rs 15,000 per month,” a youth said.
Village panchayat officials said two LED street lights have been installed, one each in Mottankurichi and Pethanur, under the MPLADS scheme. A library is under construction in Nathamedu village, apart from two borewells. And that’s about all.
Yet, despite the disaffection, some say they would still vote for Anbumani as he was the leader of their caste group — vanniyars.
Caste trumps material concerns
Nanjan, son of Subramani who died in the police firing, is dissatisfied too. “My father was protesting in the streets accepting the call to boycott the elections that were held in January of 1989. However, he along with a few others were shot dead on the main road just a few kilometers from the village,” Nanjan recalled.
“We got Rs 2,000 as monthly pension from the DMK government. Every year, PMK conducts a meeting and gives Rs 10,000 a family calling them as Vanniyar Sanga Poratta Thiyagigal (Martyrs of the Vanniyar Sangam agitation),” Nanjan added.
Nanjan says he and his family members have met Anbumani Ramadoss in person and sought a job. “Every time I meet him, he assures that I will get a job. But, nothing has turned up so far,” he said.
Nevertheless, Nanjan still wants Anbumani to be the MP. He says as a leader of the vanniyars he would at least listen to their woes, even if he does not fulfill his promises.