Talks between the Pattali Makkal Katchi and the AIADMK-led Tamil Nadu government over 20 per cent sub-quota reservation for Vanniyars continued on Thursday, with a final announcement expected in the evening.
The parties are also discussing seat-sharing arrangements for the April assembly election; the PMK is expected to contest nearly 30 constituencies, sources said.
During Wednesday’s discussions, the PMK was represented by six members, including party president GK Mani, former MP and deputy general secretary AK Moorthy, and spokesperson K Balu; the government sent electricity minister P Thangamani, municipal administration minister SP Velumani, law minister CV Shanmugam, and higher education minister KP Anbalagan.
It should be noted that before demanding sub-quota reservation for Vanniyars, the PMK asked for a caste-wise census in the state. Agreeing to the demand, the chief minister, Edappadi K Palaniswami, constituted a committee headed by retired Madras High Court judge A Kulasekaran to carry out a caste-wise survey. The PMK now claims that the government is using the committee as a trump card and saying that it will take a decision based on its report.
The AIADMK’s allies are bitterly divided over the PMK’s demands. The PMK raised the issue of reservation in December 2020, and criticised several recent decisions of its partner.
For the past two months, the party has been hinting that it would leave the alliance. In order to calm tensions, ministers from the government have been meeting the PMK’s founder, Dr S Ramadoss, at his residence in Chennai.
Although the PMK claims that it is raising this demand for the betterment of its community, the DMDK, another ally of the AIADMK, is against it. The DMDK believes the PMK is raising the issue in a bid to get more seats.
“We won’t continue the alliance with the AIADMK if the PMK tags along. However, the final decision will be taken by our party chief,” Premalatha Vijayakant, treasurer of the DMDK, said last week.
Meanwhile, Puthiya Tamilagam and Tamil Maanila Congress, the other allies of the AIADMK, support the PMK. In addition, Naam Tamilar Katchi, though not part of the alliance, also back the party.
The Sasikala Factor
Since the DMK has made it clear that it will not invite the PMK to join its alliance, Ramadoss has no option but to stay with the AIADMK. And the AIADMK is unable to forsake the PMK because of the Sasikala factor, according to political experts. VK Sasikala, a close aide of former chief minister late J Jayalalithaa, is set to return to Chennai on February 7. She completed her four-year prison term in Bengaluru in a disproportionate assets case on January 27
“The AIADMK can perform well on its own in the northern districts. They don’t need the support of the PMK. But they fear that there is a possibility for a third front just in case Sasikala returns to the political game; the PMK could join them. Because of that, the AIADMK is neither able to accept the demand nor reject it fully,” said political commentator Pongalur Manikandan.
Instead of giving importance to the PMK, the AIADMK must focus on the DMDK, he said.
“The Vanniyars in general consist of two groups: those who support only the PMK and those who support other parties. The Vanniyars who support other parties understand the PMK’s election tactics. They don’t buy Ramadoss’ arguments and don’t support his reservation demand. If the AIADMK goes along with the PMK, it won’t get the votes of Dalits and anti-PMK Vanniyars. Whereas if it contests alone or joins hands with the DMDK, it can win those votes,” added Manikandan.
Is compartmental reservation the solution?
At present, reservation works out to somewhat less than 69 per cent. The PMK wants Vanniyars to be considered as a separate category and provided 20 per cent reservation. That will take it to 89 per cent. In the past, the Supreme Court has criticised the state for its high reservation rate and said it should not exceed 50 per cent. After discussions with the AIADMK ministers, Ramadoss has stepped down from his initial demand of separate reservation to a sub-quota reservation within the MBC (Most Backward Classes).
He wants compartmental reservation, which is followed in other south Indian states such as Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In Tamil Nadu, the backward communities are split into Backward Classes and MBCs. They are provided 30 and 20 per cent reservation, respectively.
“In other states the communities are divided into five categories. So each category gets reservation. This will help the communities which are on par with each other to compete with each other,” Ramadoss said in a recent tweet.
Compartmental reservation is about breaking the MBC category into sub-categories. That cannot be done without proper caste-wise data, said reservation activist G Karunanidhy.
“Compartmental reservation has its own merits and demerits. It should be implemented with proper backing of caste-wise population data. As of now the national level census itself has not taken place due to Covid-19. Since the state is facing elections this year, carrying out caste-wise census is impossible. If the government takes any decision on the PMK’s demand, it will be dismissed in court for lack of data,” he said.
Ramadoss went along with DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi’s decision to split the 20 per cent reservation among 108 MBCs, he said. “The PMK chief has remained silent for all these years,” he said, adding Ramadoss has made this demand only with elections in mind.
“His son Anbumani has lost his constituency [Dharmapuri] and many of the party functionaries are shifting loyalties. Ramadoss is trying to strengthen his base by consolidating his caste,” Karunanidhy added.
Babu Murugavel, one of the spokesperson of AIADMK said that he cannot tell when a decision will be arrived.
“There is still time,” Babu Murugavel, an AIADMK spokesperson, said. “Once the election dates are announced, we can speed up discussions and finalise decisions. The media likes to speculate about seat-sharing arrangements. Both parties have not publicly discussed these issues,” he said.