For this Lok Sabha poll, I was never in favour of an alliance with the AIADMK: Anbumani Ramadoss

PMK president Anbumani Ramadoss tells Udhav Naig why the party decided to join the National Democratic Alliance, focusing on the 2026 Assembly election, dreaming of a State govt. without the DMK and AIADMK, and the need to present a viable alternative to the people of Tamil Nadu

Updated - April 02, 2024 02:18 pm IST

Published - April 01, 2024 11:49 pm IST

Anbumani Ramadoss

Anbumani Ramadoss | Photo Credit: B. Velankanni Raj

The Pattali Makkal Katchi, which has a strong vote bank in the northern and western regions of Tamil Nadu, sprung a surprise by announcing it would join the National Democratic Alliance and contest in 10 Lok Sabha seats when it was widely expected to stay with the AIADMK with which it has been in alliance since 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

In a conversation with The Hindu, PMK president Anbumani Ramadoss explains why the party decided to join the NDA, focussing on 2026 State Assembly elections, dreaming of a State Government without DMK and AIADMK and the need to present a viable alternative to the people of Tamil Nadu.

Why have you chosen not to contest in 2024 Lok Sabha elections and why did you join the NDA?

The State Assembly elections in 2026 is my focus. If I contest in 2024, I have to resign [in 2026] and party would have to fight a bye election. For the next two years, my entire focus will be on Tamil Nadu. So far, we are used to campaigning as a part of DMK or AIADMK alliance. Now, the onus is on the party to campaign across Tamil Nadu. We have taken this decision because we want a change. For 57 years, DMK and AIADMK have ruled the state and there is a sense of fatigue in Tamil Nadu. The DMK and AIADMK have lost sight of the principles and ideology for which they were founded. Anna started the party (DMK) to provide good administration, but, in the guise of administration, they are just doing business. The Chief Minister is surrounded by ministers who are just business men and he doesn’t seem to be aware of most of the things happening around him. There are only two or three ministers who are talented.

Can you give an example?

Take, for example, caste-wise census and Vanniyar reservation. The ministers around him have misguided him saying that only the Central government has the power to do it. According to Indian Statistical Act of 2008, even a panchayat can do a survey. In Patna High Court, the Bihar government said it has done the survey based on the Act. Bihar has increased reservations and it has found out that around 1,86,000 families live on less than Rs. 6000 a month for which each family has been given Rs. 2 lakh either to start a business or for education. This is precisely why we want a Caste census. But, Ministers around the Chief Minister keep telling him that doing a caste census would lead to a caste issue and that this (Vanniyars) caste would ask for more seats (during elections), more people from this community would have to be included in the cabinet, and that people in the South wouldn’t vote for the party.

Is it because the 10.5% internal reservations for Vanniyar (since set aside by judiciary) is widely believed to be the reason for AIADMK’s defeat in 2021 State assembly election?

This is absurd. AIADMK lost because [its joint leaders at that point] EPS and OPS wanted to defeat each other. In fact, I would not call it a defeat at all. After ten years of being in power, they got 66 seats...out of which 36 seats were because of us. I can give you the statistics.

What went wrong during seat sharing negotiations with the AIADMK?

We didn’t speak with them at all! AIADMK leader C. Ve. Shanmugam came to Thailapuram residence on his own. I didn’t speak to anyone. Salem West MLA Arul went to meet EPS in his personal capacity. The last time we won an MP seat with AIADMK was in 1998. In 2009, we didn’t win, in 2019, we didn’t win. We don’t get their votes but they get our votes. We felt that enough is enough. It is true that some of my cadres felt that AIADMK’s vote bank and PMK’s vote bank together can ensure victory in elections, especially in local bodies. But, every time, we are breathing life into the AIADMK since 1998. After she (Former AIADMK general secretary and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa) went to jail in 1996, her political career was considered finished. Within 2 years, we joined her and then came Vaiko, Vazhapadi to the alliance and we won 30 out of the 40 seats. In 2001, the same thing happened. Nobody believed she could become the Chief Minister again. In 2009, she was in the Opposition and again we joined her, she won 12 seats and we won 0. There was no vote-convertibility (vote transfer) for us. In 2019, Mr. Edappadi K. Palaniswami wouldn’t have been the Chief Minister for two years without us because he won 9 seats in the bye-election...of which 5 seats were won purely because of us. In 2021, we joined the AIADMK only for Vanniyar reservations. Till the last minute, they kept delaying it...and they passed it on the last day...and only after very hard bargaining from their side regarding seats. Our leader told our then president (GK Mani) to sign on an empty sheet of paper and tell them (AIADMK) that...’we don’t need seats...just pass legislation for reservations’. Today, they say that we betrayed them.

So you never wanted an alliance with the AIADMK?

For 2024, I was never in favour of an alliance with the AIADMK. For the last 10 months, AIADMK was begging VCK to join them. Then, they were asking Congress to join their alliance. Then, they spoke with [Naam Tamilar Katchi leader] Seeman. Finally, since nobody came, AIADMK sent feelers to us after our general body meeting. Until such time, they were never bothered about us. But, I never discussed it with them.

You have joined the BJP even though they have not supported Caste census, abolition of NEET but Rahul Gandhi has called for caste census....

Congress ruled India for nearly 60 years out of 77 years. Why have they not done a caste census? When I was the Health Minister, I went to Shivraj Patil who was then Home Minister and pressurised him with 50 M.Ps saying that a caste census should be done in 2011. We put pressure on them in the parliament...and then he said a socio-economic census will be done by the social justice ministry. It was not done professionally. Congress spoke about the caste census due to elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh elections, but now, they are not talking about it. I am not going to justify BJP’s position, but BJP has never said that they will never do the caste census. I am sure our leader [S Ramadoss] will put pressure on the BJP to bring about the caste census.

Why is PMK contesting in lesser number of seats than BJP....? Considering that the BJP and other alliance partners are not strong in regions where you have a strong presence and vice-versa, how will this help the issue of vote transfer?

BJP is the leader of the alliance. And, we have an understanding with them. There are other alliance partners, who need to be accommodated. We will see the strength of each party. We are going to see a lot of surprises in this election. AIADMK is fragmented into four and they are very vulnerable without any alliance partners. EPS has time and again said he is bothered only about the assembly elections; not the 2024 parliamentary election. There is no seriousness within the party and they have not put up strong candidates.

Do you see this alliance continuing until 2026 and have they agreed to project you as the CM candidate?

We haven’t talked about any of the nitty-gritties. We have to wait and watch what happens in 2024 elections. But, one thing is clear that the next government in Tamil Nadu will be formed without DMK or AIADMK. It is going to be an alliance. I don’t want to say ‘no’ to all Dravidian parties - there are other parties like DMDK, MDMK. First, let us get rid of DMK and AIADMK. DMK will lose the 2026 Assembly elections by default. If AIADMK is strengthened by us now, they will try to come back to power.

Do you see BJP’s growth in Tamil Nadu?

In 2019, I accept that there was a strong anti-BJP sentiment - there was a BJP government in the Centre and AIADMK government in the State. And there were two anti-incumbencies in the State but most of it was for the AIADMK at that time. Since the DMK was in opposition, they could blame the Centre and the State. But, in 2021, the anti-BJP sentiment went down and now, it is very negligible. There is acceptance for the Prime Minister in Tamil Nadu. We want to give a choice to the people that they could trust.

Have you been promised a cabinet berth if NDA comes back to power?

I don’t want a Ministership. I fully want to be in Tamil Nadu politics and that’s why I took a decision not to contest. Except DMK, 2026 is an open field. Anyone can come to power. AIADMK is vulnerable. With a good alliance, people will vote. You will see in this election how AIADMK fares. This election, I have followed my gut.

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