More than a few eyebrows were raised when PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss announced in 2015 that the party will contest all the 234 constituencies and declared himself as the chief ministerial candidate, well before the elections.
Though the PMK started out as a party for the Vanniyar community, and is popular across ten districts or more than 8 constituencies, the party has always piggybacked on the two Dravidian majors in order to reap electoral success.
Anbumani Ramadoss’ effort to break away from the caste card and appeal to neutral voters failed to reap any benefit. Based on the Election Commission’s data released at 6pm, the party is leading in one seat and has secured a vote share of 5.3 per cent, barely any improvement from the 2011 election where it won 3 seats and received a vote share of 5.2 per cent.
Since its inception, the PMK has promised prohibition, a cause that has only recently been taken up by others. However, unlike the Dravidian heavyweights, the PMK has shunned populist schemes like freebies. The party has had its share of ups and downs over the years. The PMK made its electoral debut in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, and the party polled 5.82 per cent of the vote. In the 1991 assembly elections, the vote share rose marginally to 5.9 per cent.
The scenario changed by 1999, with PMK proving to be a crucial player irrespective of the Dravidian major it formed an alliance with. Their vote share too increased to 6.05 per cent in 1998 and received a record 8.21 per cent in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections when they had aligned with the DMK.
Though the party has consistently polled between 5 to 6.5 per cent, their vote share plummeted to 4.4 per cent when they chose to disassociate with the DMK and the AIADMK, and went with the NDA in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Hanging on to the Vanniyar identity
The OBC-Vanniyars are a majority in 85-90 assembly constituencies in ten north and north-western districts, just like the Ezhavas in Kerala, they don’t vote as a single chunk.
In the past few elections, Vijayakant who enjoyed Vanniyar support walked away with some of PMK’s votebank.
But the DMDK’s decision to ally with People’s Welfare Front, which includes Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), diametrically opposite to the PMK, could have cost Vijayakant his Vanniyar votes.
It is difficult to forget the PMK’s annual “Chitra Pournami” (full-moon day in the Tamil month of Chitirai) conferences at Mahabalipuram (organised by the Vanniyar Sangam, a community organisation attached to the PMK) played a major role in facilitating Vanniyar consolidation and restoring the PMK’s electoral relevance and bargaining power, which it had lost following a steep fall in its political prospects in 2011.
Adding to this is the emergence of other smaller caste-based political groups for Udayars and Gounders which has hindered the PMK from cobbling together a larger OBC movement. The social re-engineering that has followed to consolidate OBCs and Vanniyars under the same banner has been challenging. Ramadoss' decision to make Dalit Ezhilmalai and E Ponnuswamy Union ministers did not go down well with his Vanniyar supporters. In 2014, the aggressive Pennagaram formula was followed for a reconsolidation of their Vanniyar base, latching on to the Divya Ilavarasan issue in particular.
The combination of a lack of strong Vanniyar identity and a weakening cadre base together with its casteist tag has led to the gradual erosion of PMK’s voter base.