PMK sets TN Assembly polls ball rolling with alliance talks

The PMK has a strong presence in northern Tamil Nadu. Both the DMK and the AIADMK have previously included the PMK in their alliance to win votes from that region

S Ramadoss - The Federal
The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), headed by Dr S Ramadoss, mainly works for the welfare of the Vanniyars, who constitute 25 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s population. Photo: PTI

The Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu may still be a few months away, but a party that represents 25 per cent of the state’s population and which has been a kind of lucky charm for the major Dravidian outfits to come to power has already started talking about alliances, creating a lot of buzz in the regional political landscape as cracks emerge in its existing ties with the AIADMK.

The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), headed by Dr S Ramadoss, mainly works for the welfare of the Vanniyars, who constitute 25 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s population. It has a strong presence in northern Tamil Nadu. Both the DMK and the AIADMK have previously included PMK in their alliance to win votes from that region.

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It is interesting to note that whichever party the PMK has allied with has mostly ruled the state. In 2001, it was in alliance with the AIADMK and, in 2006, it went with the DMK, although, in 2011, it was a part of the losing alliance led by the DMK. In 2016, it decided not to forge any alliance with the Dravidian parties and drew a blank in the Assembly elections.

In the Lok Sabha elections too, it has gone mostly with alliances that eventually emerged victorious: with the AIADMK in 1998, the DMK in 1999 and 2004, with the AIADMK again in 2009 and with the NDA in 2014. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it allied with the AIADMK.

After the party’s talk of alliance for the Assembly elections, political observers are busy trying to work out the permutations and combinations that are possible for the party.

VCK turns down PMK’s invite

In 2006, the party’s arch rival, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), was also in alliance with the DMK. The VCK, a party for the Dalits, has a history of fighting against the PMK. But forgetting the enmity, the two parties worked together for five years as part of the ‘Tamil Pathukappu Iyakkam’ that was launched in 2004 under the DMK’s leadership. After it came into the DMK alliance, the VCK even honoured Ramadoss with ‘Ambedkar Sudar’ in 2011. The VCK has continued to remain with the DMK.

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However, the relationship soured after the continuous attacks on Dalits in Vanniyar-dominated areas. The VCK has ever since maintained that it will not enter into any alliance that has the PMK as a constituent party.

But the PMK’s recent open invitation could be a message to the DMK that it is willing to coexist with the VCK in an alliance under the Dravidian party. The VCK, however, has categorically stated that inducting the PMK would be “a major compromise and opportunistic”.

D Ravikumar MP and general secretary of the VCK, said there is no possibility of the DMK including PMK in the alliance. “Logically, first of all, there won’t be enough seats available for the Assembly elections in the alliance to accommodate the PMK,” he said. “They usually demand the same number of seats as Congress fights. In 2006, they contested in 31 seats and won 18. In the upcoming elections, the DMK may contest in more than 180 seats. It should then keep seats aside for allies. Only if the Congress quits the alliance can the PMK be accommodated and given the number of seats it will demand,” he said. 

“They won’t get enough seats even if we, too, exit. But the most important thing is that the DMK alliance is going smoothly now without any problems,” he said indicating that including another party may disturb the balance.

Will AIADMK continue with the PMK?

The PMK was given seven seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but it failed to win even a single seat. This disappointed the AIADMK a little. 

In 2019, of the 18 constituencies where bypolls were held, the PMK had a strong hold in about nine. It should have worked to ensure the victory of the AIADMK candidates in these seats, but it hardly did anything, alleged AIADMK leaders. The AIADMK could win only three of the nine seats.  

For its part, the PMK has expressed displeasure over the AIADMK not providing it  seats in the local body elections. 

The party’s youth wing chief Dr Anbumani Ramadoss claimed that the AIADMK is in power because of the PMK’s work in the bypolls. This left some of the top leaders in the AIADMK fuming.

The PMK has also been continuously criticising the AIADMK government over various issues, including its stance on TASMAC, NEET, New Education Policy and its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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All these has made the AIADMK to rethink its alliance with the PMK. However, so far, the AIADMK has maintained that it will take a call on alliance only during the elections.

Old enemy, New friend

There are some quarters that believes the PMK may join hands with Rajinikanth for an unlikely and surprising alliance given that the actor has been attacked by the party often after the release of his film ‘Baba’ in 2002. After the film came out, Ramadoss had criticised the actor for “teaching bad habits”, such as smoking and consuming alcohol, to the youths through his films. The theatres where the film was released came under attack by the PMK cadres. In one of the public meetings, Ramadoss compared Rajini to a pig.

This angered Rajini who issued a statement stating that he would extend his support to AIADMK-BJP alliance in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. He also termed Ramadoss the ‘king of violence’ and urged his fans to defeat the PMK, which had  fielded its candidates in six constituencies. The PMK, however, survived in that election.

The hostility between the two subdued when Rajini invited the Ramadoss family to his younger daughter Soundarya’s marriage. In return, Anbumani Ramadoss invited Rajini to his daughter’s marriage.

The actor though has not launched his own party although he had indicated many times that he would. However, according to many, Rajinikanth may be having second thought and his entry into politics is doubtful.

DMK, the final destination?

Superficially, it may seem that the PMK has a strained its relationship with the DMK, especially after its accusations against the MK Stalin-led party over the ‘Murasoli’ office building issue. But, it nurses a deep desire to join hands with the DMK again.

It also seems that the DMK is ready to welcome the PMK. It is claimed that the new general secretary of the DMK, Durai Murugan, a Vanniyar, is in talks with the PMK fo an alliance. Before the birth of the PMK, about 80 per cent of Vanniyars supported the DMK.

Raveendran Duraisamy, a political commentator, said that the DMK wants the AIADMK-PMK alliance to suffer in the upcoming elections.

“The party chief, MK Stalin, has mastered the art of defeating the PMK much better than the late Karunanidhi (DMK) or Jayalalithaa (AIADMK). He has taken a pro-Vanniyar and anti-Ramadoss stance. In 2009 and in 2019, too, he did the same. In 2019, he fielded candidates under his party’s symbol wherever the PMK contested. When that is the case, why would he give seats to them? Even if he accepts them in the alliance, he will not give them more than 12 seats. Also, he can give more seats to the VCK and ask them to contest under his symbol,” he said.

While there are vigorous discussions about the likely partner of the PMK, the party leaders say it has not decided on any alliance. “All this talk of we being ready to seek an alliance is just media speculation and nothing else,” said a senior leader who did not want to be named.

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