Tamil Nadu Assembly polls: Will 10.5% internal quota help AIADMK break DMK’s bastion?


Tamil Nadu Assembly Election: Ruling AIADMK’s last-minute decision to provide 10.5 percent internal reservation to Vanniyars, one of the most dominant communities in north Tamil Nadu, has turned the contest intense and interesting at the same time in the region.

Though the decision has almost back-fired for the AIADMK in southern Tamil Nadu where many communities, including Piramalai Kallars, are up in arms, the ruling party still believes it can reap electoral benefits in the northern region comprising 64 assembly constituencies spread across 11 districts.

AIADMK coordinator and deputy AIADMK to believe that it can make inroads into the traditional DMK bastion – its alliance with PMK, an influential party among Vanniyars. The ruling party is pinning all its hopes on the vote transfer from PMK, which has a committed vote bank of around 5 percent, to win seats in the region.

Add to these, the perceived vote split by AMMK led by T T V Dhinakaran has tied up with DMDK of actor Vijayakanth, which is influential in pockets.

Quota counter-productive?

However, things do not seem good for the ruling alliance. The quota issue has opened a Pandora’s Box leading to potential counter-consolidation of other castes in the region that could threaten the AIADMK alliance’s prospects despite PMK being on its side and Vanniyars overwhelmingly welcoming the internal reservation move.

Even the PMK that never misses a chance to take credit is unusually silent. Its leaders are now seeking votes on the “achievements” of the AIADMK government and the humble background of the state’s first “farmer CM.”

But, PMK is working silently to ensure Vanniyars consolidate behind the alliance for the “historic decision,” but a counter-consolidation, which many say is inevitable, could negate any such gains.

“The quota issue has led to counter-consolidation of other castes against Vanniyars in northern Tamil Nadu. The move to provide internal reservation to Vanniyars was bound to backfire and I feel it is causing much damage to the AIADMKPMK alliance,” Prof. Ramu Manivannan, Head of the Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras, told DH.

Lack of affirmation on the implementation of the internal reservation as reflected in statements by Panneerselvam has also created confusion among the people, Manivannan added.

The quota politics and DMK’s 2016 performance

Writer and researcher Aazhi Senthilnathan opined that the quota issue might not help reap electoral gains for the AIADMK alliance due to mishandling of the issue.

“To begin with, the way the law was brought itself is wrong. The bill was introduced and passed in the Assembly only keeping in mind vote bank politics. Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami took only the PMK into consideration while ignoring all other factors. They could have at least waited till the caste census was over,” writer and researcher Aazhi Senthilnathan told DH.

Northern Tamil Nadu had mostly favored DMK with the alliance led by the Opposition party winning 34 of the total 64 seats at the stake in the region, pushing the AIADMK with 29 seats to the second position in the 2016 assembly polls.

Besides its traditional voters, the presence of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) in the alliance could result in Dalit consolidation behind the DMK – it did happen in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

VCK and PMK have had a long history of animosity and both parties do not see eye-to-eye. DMK has gone all out to project the quota as an “eyewash” by arguing that Vanniyars would lose many opportunities due to the internal reservation rather than any…

How will the region vote?

DMK has also fielded the daughter and son-in-law of late PMK leader ‘Kaduvetti’ Guru against the PMK’s father-son duo of Dr. S Ramadoss, and Anbumani Ramadoss. Though their campaign has gained traction, it remains to be seen whether it will convert into votes for the DMK.

Though AMMK is not “strong” in the region, the T T V Dhinakaran-led party could play the spoilsport in select constituencies due to “formidable candidates.” Its alliance partner, DMDK, wields influence in pockets in the region. These are other factors that could derail AIADMK’s prospects.

In districts like Tiruvannamalai, Vellore, and Ranipet, the DMK is banking on its traditional votes, while the potential counter-polarisation could work in its favor in Tiruvallur, Chengalpattu, Villupuram, and Kallakurichi. In the Vanniyar and PMK bastion of Dharmapuri, the DMK has made the fight very intense with PMK president G K Mani sweating it out in Pennagaram, despite the 10.5 percent reservation issue.

In Kanchipuram, Kallakurichi, Dharmapuri, and Tiruvannamalai, the protests against Salem-Chennai Eight-way express lane could work in favour of the DMK, which has already promised it will not implement the project if it came to power. Farmers who refused to part with their land for the controversial “Green Corridor” project are campaigning against the ruling AIADMK.

The region also has a sizeable Muslim population especially in Ranipet, Vellore, and Tiruppathur districts and their votes are likely to fall into the DMK’s kitty – AIMIM of Asaduddin Owaisi could get a chunk of the Urdu-speaking Muslim votes in the Vaniyambadi assembly segment.

In districts like Tiruvallur, Kanchipuram, and Chengalpattu, located in proximity to Chennai, livelihood issues take the centre stage. Covid-19 lockdown and the government’s “refusal” to help small businesses might work against the AIADMK regime.

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