After the 2016 humiliation, PMK’s father-son duo could get back to stoking caste tensions

Anbumani was very much part of the picture when his father unleashed all that vitriol against the Dalits
After the 2016 humiliation, PMK’s father-son duo could get back to stoking caste tensions
After the 2016 humiliation, PMK’s father-son duo could get back to stoking caste tensions
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So what happens to the PMK? It has lost all the seats it contested. Mercifully, its Chief Ministerial candidate Anbumani didn’t forfeit his security deposit like the PWF nominee Vijayakant. However, back of the envelope calculations seem to show that in more than 40 constituencies, most falling in the northern belt, the PMK candidates might have caused the defeat of the DMK-front.

It has come second in four constituencies and third in 70 others. Besides, with a share of 5.3% of votes polled, the PMK can claim to be the third largest party in the state.

But that is all cold comfort. The fact of the matter is it has drawn a blank. Period. From the high of 2004 Lok Sabha elections, when it won five seats, on the back of which party’s scion Anbumani was made the Union Health Minister, it has been a relentless downswing of its fortunes.

In the very next elections, when it was part of the AIADMK-led front, it faced a wash-out. In the 2011 Assembly elections it managed three seats as an ally of the DMK. In the last Lok Sabha polls, when it was a constituent of the NDA yet again, it managed to win only one seat.

After the rather unexpected debacle of 2009 and a pitiful couple of years later, Ramadoss, the PMK founder, perhaps thought that unless he did something dramatic to rally the Vanniyars behind him, his fortunes would nosedive and his long cherished dream of seeing his dear son as the Chief Minister, or at least as a front-ranking politician, would not materialize.

And so began his efforts to bring under one umbrella the OBCs hostile to the Dalits, the castes who just could not stand the self-assertion of the long oppressed. He did get a good response, with the Vannyiar counterparts backing him to the hilt when the Dalits were set on fire in Dharmapuri, and Ramadoss in turn speaking up for the hurt pride of the Gounders in the west.

It is not clear what exactly made him abruptly call-off that anti-Dalit mobilization and stop all his vituperative attacks against the Dalit ‘love-jihad’. But stop he did as the Assembly polls neared. Possibly he thought his strident anti-Dalit stance was taking a heavy toll on his image in the media and they could turn against him. Besides even the non-Dalit voters in general might be cheesed-off. He was unnecessarily provoking conflicts, he might have figured.

Even more interestingly he chose to go it alone and contest all the 234 constituencies. Actually the Vanniyar presence is strong in roughly 60-odd constituencies in the north and central regions. - his appeal being confined essentially to that community after all.

So it certainly made no sense to contest everywhere, Vanniyars or no. Still by projecting his beloved son as the new face of the PMK, keeping out fire-spitting characters like Kaduvetti Guru and himself leaving the stage for Anbumani, he wanted to rally the youth across the caste spectrum, even if the Dalits could cold-shoulder him.

If only he could establish he had a dependable vote-bank, it could help him cut better deals with major parties in the elections to come.

In the event though, the party has come a cropper, though in about 50 Vanniyar-dominant constituencies it has proved its strength, polling more votes than the victory margin. But this is no big improvement from its past performances, anyway everyone knew it had some impressive following among the Vanniyars.

Possibly some of those who had drifted away to the DMDK came back as Ramadoss stepped on the caste gas after the Dharmapuri episode, but nothing much happened otherwise. No non-Vanniyar was taken in by Anbumani’s tall claims or protestations of innocence to charges of corruption.

If anything, in many constituencies non-Vanniyar OBCs and Dalits ganged up to vote strategically, whether for the DMK or for the AIADMK, in order to defeat the PMK candidate, complained a passionate supporter of Anbumani.

He and his friends also asserted that the party would move away from caste politics, and towards a development agenda, a la Modi and thus win broad acceptability.

But then Anbumani was very much part of the picture when his father unleashed all that vitriol against the Dalits and he had won his Lok Sabha seat by playing the caste card most unabashedly, brazenly. Yes, he shifted gears this time, but whether he will stick to that line is the question.

The father-and-son duo won’t be averse to stoking caste tensions yet again in order to establish their hold over the Vanniars and also rally around some more OBCs. Therein lies the danger for the Tamil polity.

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