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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Will the PMK’s winning streak continue?

Doesn’t your party change alliance partners depending on which way the election wind is blowing, asked a journalist of Anbumani Ramadoss recently. The former Union Minister and face of the Pattali Makkal Katchi at the national level replied that it is untrue that the PMK chooses to back winning combinations. Rather, it is the PMK’s presence in a combination that makes it victorious, he said.

Agree or not, even the PMK’s fiercest critics acknowledge that the party has almost perfected the art of making politically smart and correct moves, especially before elections. The party has never been on the side of a losing alliance since the 1998 Lok Sabha election, when it allied with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

In the 1999 Lok Sabha poll, the PMK bagged five out of seven seats it contested in the State.

During the 2001 Assembly polls, it won 20 out of 27 seats. Three years later, in the Lok Sabha election, the party notched up victories in all the six seats (including Puducherry) it contested. In the 2006 Assembly election, it captured 18 out of 31 seats. Political watchers are waiting to see whether the party will perform well once more and — more importantly — retain its spotless record of being a part of the winning alliance.

The PMK, now part of the AIADMK-led front, is a valuable partner in any coalition in that it can effectively bring in huge chunk of votes in nearly 15 Lok Sabha constituencies. Very few sub-regional parties can match the PMK in this regard.

The party, which emerged as an off-shoot of the Vanniyar Sangham’s fierce agitation in the mid-1980s, has its following essentially in the northern districts of Kancheepuram, Cuddalore, Tiruvannamalai and Villupuram and in parts of the western districts, including Salem, Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri. In the central region, it has a significant base in Nagapttinam, Perambalur and Ariyalur districts.

Its sway over the core support base was evident even in its electoral debut during the 1989 Lok Sabha election. In Dharmapuri, the party pushed the DMK to third place and secured almost 30 per cent of the vote. In Arakkonam, Tindivanam (now called Villupuram) and Chidambaram constituencies, the party polled 21 per cent to 26 per cent votes. This was when the Congress-AIADMK combine swept the State, bagging 38 out of the 39 constituencies. Two years later, despite the sympathy wave in favour of the Congress-AIADMK front following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the party almost repeated its showing in most of the constituencies. Again, in Dharmapuri, the PMK finished second. In 1989 and 1991, it contested alone.

After a modest performance in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections when it faced the polls along with the Congress (Tiwari), the PMK has been fighting elections in the company of either the DMK or the AIADMK since 1998.

The party’s strength lies in the facts that its influence is high in certain pockets and that its votes get transferred to the combination that includes it. This was evident in the Assembly poll three years ago. The DMK-led Democratic Progressive Alliance, which then included two Communist parties and the PMK apart from the Congress, won 50 out of 70 constituencies in the districts of Chennai, Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur, Cuddalore, Villupuram, Vellore and Tiruvannamalai.

Several reasons are cited for the PMK’s success. The presence of the Vanniyar community in a geographically-contiguous belt has given the party a strong footing. The political mobilisation of the Vanniyar community has a longer history than that of any other community, says Tindivanam K. Ramamurthee, former president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee and now heading the State unit of the Nationalist Congress Party. (His rebellion on the eve of the 2006 Assembly election forced the Congress leadership to appoint M. Krishnasswamy, another Vanniyar, as the TNCC leader.)

The Vanniyar agitation compelled the State government in March 1989 to create a category – Most Backward Classes – and earmark 20 per cent for the category. The DMK was in power at that time too and M. Karunanidhi, Chief Minister, quoting official statistics, said the Vanniyars, with 65 lakhs, formed the majority of the MBC-Denotified Communities grouping of 122 lakhs.

A professor of political science, who has been associated with several political surveys carried out in the State, says that the PMK’s two nominees in the United Progressive Alliance government — Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss and R. Velu — gave the impression of being active Ministers and that this has generated a positive image of the party among educated sections, cutting across the communities.

The party has its share of critics. Panruti S. Ramachandran, who was the first PMK Member of Legislative Assembly and now the presidium chairman of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, says the PMK can no longer boast of holding the Vanniyar card as its preserve. This is why its founder S. Ramadoss is raising issues such as protection of Tamil language and culture. Besides, the younger generation in the community is being drawn towards the DMDK and its leader Vijayakanth.

Contesting this, Dr. Ramadoss says the PMK has evolved as a political force. Now, it is focused on broader issues that affect society. Issues concerning agriculture, education and employment are being vigorously pursued. For the last seven years, the party has been bringing out alternative budgets for the State and for the last two years exclusive documents on agriculture. “Ours is the only party which has been carrying on a strong campaign in favour of prohibition. We held women’s conferences in all the districts, demanding total prohibition. Likewise, our youth rallies, held throughout the State, were hugely successful,” he says, adding that the younger people, who went away from the PMK fold, are coming back.

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