Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami’s announcement of the cancellation of class X examination in the state on June 9 received a rather unexpected but mixed response from the allies of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
While the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) welcomed the government’s decision, its leader and Rajya Sabha member Anbumani Ramadoss claimed that the state had heeded the party’s request to scrap the exams. On the other hand, Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) founder Vijayakant condemned the government strongly for cancelling the exam.
In a series of tweets, Vijayakant said the state should have stood by its earlier decision to hold the exams. He said the party would have welcomed it if the decision was taken before the setting up of exam centres and the issue of hall tickets.
The government cancelled the exams following in the footsteps of the neighbouring Telangana and after the Madras High Court and opposition parties criticised it, he said. Another ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that would usually be active on its Twitter handle, refrained from commenting on the issue.
All these raise questions on the AIADMK’s control over its allies, especially when the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) seems to be organising its partners well and speaking in unison against the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reacting to the DMDK’s criticism, State Fisheries Minister D. Jayakumar said the government had scrapped the exams, heeding the request of parents and not under any compulsion. However, the PMK continues to take credit for the government’s decisions — not only on class X exams but also several other issues.
Despite being in alliance, we have an ideology and will protest anything that goes against it, said PMK spokesperson K. Balu. “We have been constantly following that opposing the decisions of the (state and central) governments with regard to the conduct of NEET exam, the opening of TASMAC shops, OBC reservations, etc,” he said.
For over a month, there had been an uproar in the state over the non-implementation of 50 per cent reservation for the Other Backward Class (OBC) in undergraduate, postgraduate and diploma medical seats of the all-India quota as mandated by law.
“Only after Anbumani moved the Supreme Court in this regard, all other parties filed petitions,” said Balu. (The SC, on June 11 made an observation that reservation cannot be deemed a fundamental right). The AIADMK filed a writ petition in the apex court on June 9.
On the other side, DMDK deputy secretary B. Parthasarathy said alliances would matter only when elections near. “As a political party, we will criticise the government. The state should have either cancelled the exams during the outbreak of COVID-19 or stood firm on its decision to conduct the exams,” he said.
“The government and the Health Minister would have definitely known how long the pandemic would last. So, why didn’t they make a decision on the cancellation of exams in the beginning (of the pandemic),” Parthasarathy said. But the state has scrapped the exams now due to pressure from opposition parties and the court, he said.
The state unit of the BJP remained a silent observer. “We didn’t want to politicise the issue as it was an administrative decision,” said party spokesperson and youth wing leader S.G. Suryah. “But we welcome the decision,” he added. “I had heard that even without the insistence of the DMK and the PMK, the government had already been considering this option,” said Suryah.
However, the dilemma over the cancellation of class 10 exams has made one thing visible — the weak links within the AIADMK, said Professor Ramu Manivannan, Head of the Political Science Department of Madras University. “After Jayalalithaa’s death, the AIADMK is no longer an entity in itself. Though the party holds the power and runs the administration, the invisible force behind it is the BJP,” he said.
On the other hand, parties like the PMK are only relevant as pressure groups and not as major players, said Prof. Manivannan. He called the PMK a ‘bed of needles.’ “The party will prick with the pointed tip and lay itself up as a mat using the other end of the same needle when the need arises,” he said.
After the government decided to open liquor shops, the PMK moved the Madras High Court against the decision. While the court ordered the closure of shops, the Supreme Court stayed the order. If the PMK was firm on its decision against the opening of TASMAC shops, why did the party not walk out of the alliance, asked Prof. Manivannan.
In 2016, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) bore the brunt of failing to forge an alliance with other opposition parties. Though the third front could not win even a single seat, the parties together secured around 6 per cent of the total vote share. But the margin of vote share between the ruling AIADMK and the opposition DMK was just about 1 percentage point.