Days after the AIADMK government conceded the PMK’s demand for the 10.5% vanniyar quota, a quiet campaign hit social media. In a oneminute film, three government schoolboys lament the difficulty for members of their community to get a medical seat in a government college. One boy points out that “thanks to Dr Ramadoss Aiyya’s 40-year struggle, the vanniyar community has got 10.5% reservation”. This meant that of 1,000 medical seats, 105 seats would be reserved for vanniyars, the student explains.
The film brings to mind the protracted bargaining that compelled the AIADMK government to give in to the PMK. But as campaigning gathered pace for the April 6 assembly election, neither the PMK nor the AIADMK is crowing over the quota achievement. This is because the implications for caste and political dynamics are farreaching. Chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami steers clear of the subject even in his own vanniyardominant Edappadi assembly constituency. As for his deputy O Panneerselvam, who is battling to retain his Bodinayakanur constituency in the mukkulathor-dense southern region, he knows bringing up the subject could cost him dearly. Both leaders do not wish to antagonise the non-vanniyar caste groups.
“Even before a decision was taken on the internal reservation for vanniyars within the 20% MBC quota, AIADMK district secretaries were summoned for a meeting. Each one worked out the caste calculations and the ramifications the announcement would have for constituencies in their districts,” said a senior AIADMK leader, seeking anonymity. For the PMK, its biggest worry is vote transferability. “In the 120 vanniyar-dominant constituencies, particularly in the north and western parts, the AIADMK would not have much trouble getting votes from the community. But would the PMK benefit from a non-vanniyar vote transfer that covers naidus, mudaliars and naickers,” wondered an AIADMK leader.
Dalit hostility is another worry for the PMK. So, ‘Doctor Aiyya’ was careful not to refer to the quota achievement while campaigning in Chepauk in Chennai or Jayankondan in the central Ariyalur district. His son Anbumani Ramadoss, however, has no reservations talking about it during electioneering. But he is careful to mention that they would fight for similar reservation for all backward communities.
“All second-rung AIADMK leaders speak about the vanniyar quota as the CM’s achievement and promise similar quotas for other backward communities too. But we are careful to bring it up only in the vanniyar-dominant constituencies,” said a senior AIADMK leader. In the thevar pockets in the south, constituencies in the west with sizeable kongu vellalar voters and many of the central districts, leaders go silent on the quota issue. “I can’t afford to say ‘we won, we won’ on the vanniyar quota issue. It’s bound to be an irritant for the other castes,” said M Thilagabhama, PMK’s candidate in Attur constituency in southern Dindigul.