Just minutes before the Election Commission of India’s press conference to announce the dates of the Tamil Nadu (TN) assembly elections, the ruling AIADMK government hastily tabled a Bill to provide 10.5 per cent reservation for Vanniyars. With this move, the party has set the stage for caste polarisation to play a greater role in the upcoming elections.
The PMK has a strong vote base of Vanniyars in north TN. The Vanniyars already enjoy 20 per cent reservation under Most Backward Community (MBC) category, however, they alleged that they never got a proper proportion of seats in education and employment. From December 2020, the PMK started demanding for a separate 20 per cent reservation for Vanniyars, which would scale up the reservation percentage already existing in the state from 69 to 89 per cent.
However, after talks between the state government and PMK, the latter agreed to step down from their initial demand and instead claimed a sub-quota within the MBC. But the government did not accept the demand, wanting to complete a caste-wise survey in the state, for which committee headed by Justice A Kulasekaran has been appointed.
One would deduce that the state government was procrastinating over taking a decision because it was waiting for the committee’s report. But, all of a sudden, an announcement was made on February 26, minutes before the ECI press conference, doling out a reservation quota for the Vanniyar community. The timing of the announcement has drawn mixed reactions from political parties but it has become amply clear that AIADMK sprung this Bill in the Assembly because they wanted to get PMK on their side.
“The demand for separate reservation for Vanniyars is 40 years old. But the Bill has been brought in the last moments of AIADMK regime. The Governor’s approval is required to implement this Bill. So, it is of no use for the people. It will only help the PMK and AIADMK to harvest the Vanniyar votes,” said T Velmurigan, chief, Tamilaga Vaazhvurimai Katchi to Puthiya Thalaimurai.
The day after the Bill was tabled, seat sharing talks between AIADMK and PMK were held and the latter was allotted 23 seats. On Sunday (February 28), media reports suggested that Governor Banwarilal Purohit has granted his assent to the Bill on February 26 itself, according to a Gazette notification. The speed shown over the passing of the Bill has created displeasure among other castes in the state.
While the PMK started celebrating the announcement as a victory of their four-decade struggle, some voices were raised about the rationale behind providing sub-quota reservation to a single large community since it would set a wrong precedence.
“This is not social justice but a social killing. Under MBC, there are 68 Denotified Communities but we have been given only 7 per cent. But a single community was given 10.5 per cent. This is atrocious. This will definitely reflect in the elections and the people from the south will caste their votes opposing AIADMK,” averred P Thavamani Devi, treasurer, Denotified Tribes Welfare Association.
Before carrying out the state-wide caste survey, the government should not have passed this Bill, she said, adding that PMK leader, Ramadoss should have pushed the government to speed up the caste-wise survey instead of accepting this offer now.
A section of Vanniyars, on the other hand, alleged that the PMK has further pulled the community backward.
“When they were under MBC with 20 per cent reservation, as a majority (among 108 castes in the category), they got 12 to 14 per cent reservation till now. But now, they will get only 10.5 per cent,” tweeted Dr S Senthil Kumar, DMK MP from Dharmapuri.
It should be noted that the Vanniyars should compete within the 10.5 per cent hereafter but not in the 20 per cent category. Another section of Vanniyars however argued that since the internal reservation has been given exclusively to Vanniyars (about 40 castes), as opposed to 20 per cent where they need to compete with remaining 68 castes, more number of Vanniyars would benefit in future.
But all these theories are based on assumptions and there is no data to support their claim, said well-known reservation activist G Karunanidhy.
“Either to prove that they naturally got 14 per cent (in 20 per cent reservation) or to prove that they really have no proper proportion in the government jobs and education, both sides need to provide data. Without data we should not arrive at a decision,” he said.
Interestingly, the state government has added a rider that the 10.5 per cent reservation is a temporary arrangement and subject to change after six months, when the commission submits their report on the caste-wise survey.
“The Governor’s approval to the Bill won’t stop the people from filing a case opposing it in the courts. The Bill will not stand in the court,” Karunanidhy added.
K Balu, advocate and PMK spokesperson said that their arguments are based on data collected by them whenever government appointments are made.
“Last year a total of six deputy collectors have been selected from the MBC. But none of them were Vanniyars. This is one example,” he claimed.
The party has been asking for the data with the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission from 1979 about Vanniyar representation in state government jobs but they still have not received any data, Balu alleged.