Over the last two months, the NDA in Tamil Nadu (consisting of the AIADMK and BJP) has been holding a host of meetings and working overtime to satisfy the demands of two caste groups in the state - the Devendra Kula Vellalars and the Vanniyar community. The long standing demands of these groups have suddenly come to the forefront of political discourse with the AIADMK and the BJP both lending support to these pleas. And the reason for this, says sources in the AIADMK and political experts, is also the need to consolidate the vote of these two castes, especially at a time when the Thevar vote base (which traditionally supported the AIADMK), is likely to see a split.
For the Devendra Kula Vellalars, the Union Government on Saturday introduced a constitutional amendment in Lok Sabha to club seven Dalit communities â€” Devendrakulathan, Kadaiyan, Kalladi, Kudumban, Pallan, Pannadi, Vathiriyan together as Devendrakula Velalar. On Sunday Prime Minister Modi spoke at length about this Constitutional Amendment in Chennai, even likening his name Narendra to 'Devendra', a part of the community's name.
Similarly, the AIADMK since December, has been holding talks with the PMK which is demanding 20% internal reservation for the Vanniyar community. The government has in fact formed a committee under retired Justice Kulasekaran to figure out the methodology for conducting a caste census in the state, based on which reservation can be amended.
An AIADMK source close to the Chief Minister says, "From time to time every party will create such vote bases. Devendra Kula Vellalars are more important than you may think in the current vote base. They form 11.45% of the state's population while the Vanniyar community is 15%. Both of them together form a significant chunk of votes."
While the AIADMK believes that it still has control over a significant portion of the Thevar community, they do admit that part of the vote base will get eroded due to political shifts in the recent past. According to 'Tharasu' Shyam, a senior journalist and author of â€˜Veerathirumuruganâ€™, a book on Mutharamlingam Thevar's politics, the Thevar community forms at least 10% of the state's vote bank. In at least 38 constituencies, the Thevar vote is the deciding factor in an election. But following the death of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and the uncertainty over the political future of her aide and Thevar community member VK Sasikala, the community's vote is expected to get split.
"The Thevar community will possibly choose between VK Sasikala and Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam (also from the community) when it comes down to voting. The two major parties are also aware of this and shifted focus to the Vanniyar community which is also large in numbers," says Stalin Rajangam, a political commentator and scholar in Dalit studies. "Even during the Vikravandi Assembly elections, the DMK had promised internal reservation to the Vanniyar community. This time too similar promises are being given," he adds.
Multiple AIADMK sources however confirm that while an amendment in the reservation is possible, 20% is too high a demand. The PMK too must sense the hesitation on the part of the government because its founder S Ramadoss has alleged that AIADMK is employing delay tactics.
Criticizing the formation of a commission, Ramadoss outraged that at a time when the party was expecting an announcement regarding the reservation, they only got the news of the constitution of a commission.
"This is a time-consuming process and delaying tactics adopted by the government," he alleged.
As for the Devendra Kula Vellalars, Stalin Rajangam explains that there is a dual political benefit to gaining their support. The first is that they form atleast 11% of the 25% Dalit population in the state and the second is that they form a Dalit vote base for the NDA which has been unable to garner support from the Parayar community which is a vote base for the Vidudhalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK).
The efforts of the NDA have however worked, with the community overjoyed by the Union government's action.
Speaking to TNM, Tamil Nadu Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) President John Pandian said, "Devendra Kulla Vellalars welcome the move of Prime Minister Modi to accept our demands. We have been protesting for the past 40 years to list the seven castes under the umbrella of Devendra Kula Vellalars. We have met several Chief Ministers including Anna, Kalaignar, MGR and Jayalalitha. Yet, the Prime Minister has given this to us now."
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment clarified that even though the seven castes will be called as Devendra Kula Vellalars they'll continue to be under the Scheduled Caste list. For this, John Pandian said, "We are happy that our most important demand has been accepted by the government. In the case of declassification, we need to talk to the Prime Minister directly since it's a Central subject. So, we will do it eventually."