Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections | Vanniyar quota keeps the pot boiling in northern Tamil Nadu

A demonstration near Thomas Munro statue in Chennai to press for 20% reservation for Vanniyars in government jobs and higher education. File   | Photo Credit: JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

Tamil Nadu’s northern region, with its good mix of urban and rural districts, presents an interesting challenge for political parties this time.

In Chennai and its surrounding districts of Tiruvallur, Kancheepuram and Chengalpattu, the focus is largely on civic and infrastructure issues. However, in the northern districts of Cuddalore, Villupuram, Kallakurichi, Tiruvannamalai, Vellore, Ranipet and Tirupathur, caste and the rise in prices of essential commodities are likely to play a key role.

Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections | Vanniyar quota keeps the pot boiling in northern Tamil Nadu

With the rural areas being a Vanniyar heartland, the 10.5% exclusive internal reservation provided to the community in the last minute by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government is likely to have an impact, both ways. The region also has a strong population of Dalits, in addition to staggered concentration of other communities such as Mudaliars, Yadavas and minorities.

While the region is considered the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) traditional stronghold, the AIADMK, which has few strong regional leaders like Law Minister C. Ve. Shanmugam, has tied up with the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), which largely represents the interests of the Vanniyars. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) alliance with the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) is expected to lead to a consolidation of Dalits, large sections of whom are pitted against the Vanniyars.

The DMK has traditionally won a majority of the seats in Chennai, except in 2006 and 2011. The contest in the capital city and its close surroundings is essentially based on the strengths of the DMK and AIADMK, with their allies contributing only in small measure. DMK president M.K. Stalin, who is making a strong bid for the chief ministership, is contesting for a third consecutive time in Kolathur, while his son and actor Udhayanidhi Stalin is making his electoral debut from Chepauk Thiruvallikeni, a constituency represented thrice by his grandfather M. Karunanidhi. The AIADMK has also fielded some prominent personalities in the city, including former Minister Gokula Indira and former Chennai Mayor Saidai Duraisamy. Actor Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam with its pro-urban image is expected to poll decently in the capital.

In rural areas, the face of politics went for a change when S. Ramadoss, a medical professional, mobilised Vanniyars in the 1980s on the plank of exclusive reservation for the community. It resulted in the DMK government (1989-91) creating 20% reservation for the Most Backward Classes (MBCs), including the Vanniyars. Dr. Ramadoss, subsequently, founded PMK, and it evolved as a solid partner for any political alliance that won elections between 1998 and 2006. However, since 2009, the party has been on a losing streak, though it has an assured vote bank of over 5%.

This time, the party fought and secured an exclusive 10.5% reservation for Vanniyars with the Most Backward Classes quota, leading to retention of its alliance with the AIADMK.

However, this has led to talks of a “counter consolidation” of other communities. “Of course, the 10.5% reservation has consolidated the Vanniyars. But it has also angered other communities,” said Sahitya Akademi Award winner Imayam, who has captured the lives of the people in the northern districts in his works. He feels this may draw adverse reaction from the other communities at the polling booths.

Villagers in Tiruvannamalai district said the Vanniyars and non-Vanniyars, both in the DMK and the AIADMK, are increasingly finding themselves on opposite sides of the debate after the reservation was announced. The PMK leadership, however, has sought to project the exclusive reservation as a “social justice issue”. It has argued that its intention is that this should form the basis of population-based proportional reservation for all communities once the caste census is taken.

According to Imayam, mobilisation on caste lines had its clear disadvantages and it would reflect in the current election also. He feels voters may accept a Dalit or Vanniyar candidate of the DMK and the AIADMK, but not the ones fielded by parties exclusively representing the interests of the communities. “You should keep in mind that though Vanniyars and Dalits constitute a major portion of the population of Cuddalore district, non-Vanniyar and non-Dalit candidates were elected from the Cuddalore Lok Sabha constituency,” he explained.

However, his theory may not hold good always if past elections are an indication. In the last Lok Sabha polls, both the VCK candidates had won. Similarly, the PMK’s candidates also emerged victorious in large numbers prior to 2009.

While rural voters have found the AIADMK’s promise of a free washing machine and six free LPG cylinders attractive, the doubt over reservation — since Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam said it was “provisional”— has also caused some discontent among the Vanniyars. Moreover, anti-incumbency factors coupled with inner-party feuding in the AIADMK camp over the selection of candidates in the Panruti and Kurinjipadi constituencies in Cuddalore district has impacted the tone of the AIADMK’s campaign noticeably.

A functionary of the AIADMK said that the skirmishes in the party, and differences against the Industries Minister M.C. Sampath which have spilled out in the open, might play spoilsport and damage the party’s chances in a few constituencies.

Ranipet, Vellore and Tirupathur accounting for 13 constituencies have a substantial population of Muslims. The DMK has tied up with two Muslim parties, the Indian Union Muslim League and Manithaneya Makkal Katchi, whereas the AIADMK’s alliance with the Bharathiya Janata Party could cost it the votes of minorities.

Just as western Tamil Nadu decides the AIADMK’s prospects, the north could decide the DMK’s.

(With inputs from Udhav Naig, Vivek Narayanan and S. Prasad)

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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 1:10:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/tamil-nadu-assembly/vanniyar-quota-keeps-the-pot-boiling-in-northern-tamil-nadu/article34238889.ece

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