Can PMK convert support base into votes in TN?

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S. Dorairaj

Chennai: Just as the battle-lines for the May 13 Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu are being drawn, the capability of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) in converting its support base in the Vanniyar heartland into votes in favour of the electoral alliance headed by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is being watched closely.

Detractors of the PMK accuse the party of treating the oft-repeated dictum, “there are no permanent friends or foes in politics” as its ‘guiding principle’ in constantly changing electoral alliances. Undeterred by such criticism, the PMK has now returned to the AIADMK camp after eight years. Under the agreement reached on March 28, the PMK has been allotted seven Lok Sabha seats: Sriperumbudur, Arakkonam, Dharmapuri, Tiruvannamalai, Kallakurichi and Chidambaram (Reserved) in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The party has also been assured of AIADMK support for its nominee for the Rajya Sabha election slated for next year. Both the Communist Parties and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) have welcomed the PMK’s decision.

After inking the seat-sharing accord, the AIADMK general-secretary, Ms Jayalalithaa, and the PMK founder, Dr S. Ramadoss, exuded confidence that the alliance would sweep the poll. On April 3, led by the former Union Health Minister, Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, all the seven PMK nominees called on Ms Jayalalithaa. Considering the track record of the PMK, the party’s move was not surprising. But what has raised eyebrows is the speed at which the PMK concluded the seat-sharing process, much ahead of two other allies — the MDMK and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Through the early seat-sharing agreement, the PMK has put at rest reports that the party continued to ‘dither’ on the alliance issue.

The 20-year-old regional party, just like its predecessors — the Commonweal Party and the Toilers Party — has the backing of the most backward Vanniyar community, primarily in the northern part of Tamil Nadu. Initially, the PMK shunned the strategy of fighting elections as a partner of any alliance. In 1989, deciding to plough a lonely furrow, the party fielded candidates for 26 Lok Sabha constituencies. It was able to garner 15,36,350 votes in Tamil Nadu, though no candidate won. Strangely, the PMK boycotted the Assembly poll held in the same year as a protest against what it called the government’s ‘failure’ to concede its demand on reservation.

Change of strategy

In 1991, the PMK faced the general elections independently. The party nominees forfeited their deposits in 28 of the 31 Lok Sabha seats they tried their luck in. The party’s vote share dwindled to 12,69,690. In the Assembly elections held simultaneously, the party won one seat. In 1996, the PMK turned to alliance strategy, forging ties with the then Congress (Tiwari).

From 1996 to 2006, the party changed electoral alliances five times (see info-box). After the 2006 Assembly polls, the PMK was eased out of the ‘rainbow alliance’ in June last year, as the PMK started criticising the DMK government on different issues such as power crisis, illegal sand mining, liquor policy, smuggling of PDS rice, acquiring farmland for SEZs, setting up of satellite towns and Sri Lankan Tamils issue. The PMK also accused the DMK of “violating the coalition dharma” by working against its candidates in the Assembly and local body elections.

The last straw came in the arrest under the NSA of the Vanniyar Sangam President, Mr Kaduvetti J. Guru, for allegedly making threatening remarks against DMK leaders. The PMK exited the DPA. Critics of the PMK also allege that the party leadership takes things to a point of no return. According to them, the party’s violent agitation, including cutting trees to highlight the demand for reservation, remained in people’s memory for long. They also point to Dr Ramadoss dubbing the DMK ‘enemy number one’ at one stage and calling the Congress ‘mortal enemy’.

In September 1992, the PMK’s strong pro-LTTE stand resulted in the then Chief Minister, Ms Jayalalithaa, demanding that the Centre ban the party. The PMK’s moral policing, as demonstrated by its agitations against film-stars Rajnikant, Kushboo and Vijayakanth, had led to a good section of marginal voters moving away from the party. The PMK’s bonhomie with the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi also did not last long as the two parties would be locking horns at the Chidambaram (SC) seat now. The PMK had to do a lot of damage-control such as launching tree planting and desilting of tanks and organising conferences through its youth wing to wean the youth from the influence of film-stars.

Formidable challenges

With limited vote share in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu to extend a helping hand to its allies, the PMK, which has set its goal of capturing power in Tamil Nadu in 2011, will have to face formidable challenges from the DMK, Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam and the Dalit-supported VCK now in its bastion in the northern districts, observers point out.

Admitting that all their efforts to impress upon the Congress to lead a “Third Front” in Tamil Nadu as an alternative to the DMK and the AIADMK have failed, the PMK leaders hope that their party would be able to meet these challenges by highlighting the performance of its erstwhile nominees in the Union Ministry, its ability to present shadow budgets for the State and Puducherry and its consistent stand on issues such as inter-State river disputes.

Related Stories:
PMK to strive for economic growth with social justice for all
PMK to go with AIADMK
The importance of being PMK

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 7, 2009)
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