Caste prevails, caste-based parties lose
By M. R. Venkatesh
CHENNAI, MAY 18. Have Tamil Nadu voters outright rejected caste- based parties or is it that `Jatis' (as endogamous social groups) eventually prevailed in the 2001 Assembly poll?
This key issue has come to the fore, as barring the sole seat won by the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI), the two explicitly OBC- based outfits in the DMK-led NDA have come a cropper.
Vying with each other for the `Most Backward Class (MBC) status', the Mudaliyar-based New Justice Party (NJP), founded by Mr. A. C. Shanmugham, and the Yadava community-centred Makkal Tamil Desam (MTD) floated by the former AIADMK Minister, Mr. S. Kannappan, drew a blank. Even the two leaders failed to make it in their new political incarnation.
Though all five seats allotted by the DMK to the NJP were in segments which had a concentration of Mudaliars, unfortunately for Mr. Shanmugham, the constituencies overlapped with the Vanniyar-dominated belt of north/north-western Tamil Nadu.
As a cluster of factors in the run-up to the polls including caste and economic issues like very poor returns from agriculture tilted the scales in favour of the PMK-inclusive AIADMK front, the NJP received a drubbing everywhere. Even in its prestigious contest in Arni, where Mr. Shanmugham contested, the party lost to the AIADMK, besides in Bhavani and Sholingur.
The NJP was defeated by the TMC in Tiruvallur and in the `Congress fort' of Rishivandiyam; it was only in Sholingur that NJP lost by a smaller margin of 9,795 votes as the TMC-Democratic Forum founded by Mr. P. Chidambaram cut into the TMC vote there.
Apparently, Mr. Shanmugham could not sell his `all Mudaliars unite' plank to his community despite a major section, `Senguntha Mudaliar weavers', facing rough weather economically. On the other hand, a good section of the Mudaliars being successful professionals, is averse to the `MBC tag'.
Further, the writ of `ACS', as Mr. Shanmugham is widely known, did not run what with quite a few Mudaliar independents frustrating the NJP objective. In Tiruvallur, for instance, a community independent clearly cut into NJP's votes, helping the TMC win.
Even in the Peranamallur segment, which was given to the MTD considering the sizable Yadava presence there, it was an independent Mudaliar, a bus-owner, who jumped into the fray against ACS' wishes, sources said. The MTD thus lost to the AIADMK as he cut into the Mudaliar votes.
The MTD, which contested most of its six seats in the south, faced a different predicament. Though the Yadavas and the Dalits jelled well as part of the NDA which had roped in both DPI and PT, the MTD candidates including Mr. Kannappan in Ilayangudi lost by small margins.
Apparently, in those segments, the upper-caste Thevar votes in the DMK kitty did not transfer to the MTD. This was in keeping with the general trend in the south were the Thevars had a face- off with the DMK, a fallout of its proximity to the Dalits.
In Bhuvanagiri, the MTD nominee and former Indian Bank chairman, Mr. M. Gopalakrishnan, was beaten by an AIADMK-backed independent by just 3764 votes, thanks mainly to the MDMK factor.
Surprisingly, in the Chengam reserved constituency, where the MTD had put up a woman, a last-minute `twist' was given to the campaign as the MTD candidate had married into a Yadava family, the sources said. Her rivals capitalised on this to allegedly canvass among the Dalits saying she would at heart be ``more pro- Yadav than pro-Dalit''. This compaign cost her the seat.
Even if caste-based partiesper sein the DMK front did not win seats, `Jati' has prevailed in the overall poll outcome. The AIADMK-led front had thus a better chance as it reaffirmed the existing caste equations and did not upset anybody's apple cart.