Party’s bid to consolidate Vanniyar vote base has not paid off

While the Vanniyars, a dominant OBC community in north and north-western Tamil Nadu continue to play a significant role in poll equations, the downside of the PMK’s caste mobilisation strategy has come to the fore across several Lok Sabha constituencies in this belt, barring Dharmapuri, in the 2014 general election.

Post-poll reports from the ground indicate that the PMK’s bid to consolidate its Vanniyar vote base has not paid off for different reasons across the northern belt, even as the ruling AIADMK made a clean sweep, garnering substantial votes from all sections, including ‘Vanniyars’ and Dalits.

In the heartland of the ‘Vanniyar belt’ (Cuddalore and Villupuram districts), the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections shows that the PMK’s vote share has declined from 8 per cent to just 4.40 per cent, even if the party managed to retain a good chunk of its community votes as part of the ‘rainbow alliance,’ which included the BJP, the DMDK and the MDMK.

This trend signifies two things: the Vanniyars’ political affiliations go beyond the PMK, across the political spectrum including the DMK and the AIADMK historically; and the weakening of the PMK itself, say political observers. The major beneficiary of this changing scenario has been the AIADMK, which reaped rich dividends in the 2014 elections.

In Cuddalore and Villupuram districts, a considerable section of the ‘Vanniyars’ have gravitated towards the AIADMK, thanks to T. Velmurugan, former MLA and founder of the Tamizhaga Vazhvirumai Katchi. “The PMK itself has been the cause of its decline,” Mr. Velmurugan, who was expelled from the PMK and who backed the AIADMK, told The Hindu.

That the “PMK is now bereft of any ideology has been proved by its aligning with the communally oriented BJP and the DMDK, which it had desisted earlier,” Mr. Velmurugan said. Further, by concentrating his campaign on Dharmapuri, from where the PMK’s youth wing leader Anbuman Ramadoss won, PMK leader S. Ramadoss showed that “his heart lies only in improving the prospects of his family members,” he said.

Dr. Ramadoss also failed to adhere to the ‘alliance dharma’, which wrecked the fortunes of its allies like the DMDK. It also caused dismay among the ‘Vanniyars’ who turned to the AIADMK, he said.

The PMK itself contested only Chidambaram (reserved), leaving Villupuram, Kallakurichi and Cuddalore in the two districts to the Vijayakant-led DMDK. In neighbouring Puducherry, where the PMK put up a rebel candidate against the NDA candidate of the All India NR Congress, the PMK nominee, R.K.R. Anantharaman, secured just 24,143 votes and lost his deposit.

In Vellore and Arakkonam, which have a considerable ‘Vanniyar’ population, the PMK’s caste consolidation was again not seen. The AIADMK won both seats convincingly. “The general belief that ‘Vanniyars’ mostly supported the PMK is no longer valid,” says an MLA belonging to that community.

The AIADMK was the preferred choice this time, especially for young and new voters, as a good section of the ‘Vanniyars’ placed more trust on Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s leadership. Further, the AIADMK fielding eight candidates from the ‘Vanniyar’ community in the northern belt and in Puducherry, also tilted the support of the community in favour of the AIADMK, which won six of the eight seats, said an informed source.

Interestingly, in a constituency like Tiruvannamalai, PMK candidate G. Ediroli Maniyan came third in the absence of a strong ally like the AIADMK, compared with the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. In Arani, though the PMK’s senior A.K. Murthi secured over 2.53 lakh votes, in the backdrop of the “intense community mobilisation” this time, sources said this prevented the PMK from mustering support from other NDA partners, cutting across caste lines.

As for the Dalit votes in the northern belt, a good chunk shifted to the AIADMK as the community did not favour candidates who formed part of a PMK-inclusive alliance like the NDA, sources pointed out.

(With additional reporting by M.R. Venkatesh in Chennai)