Transforming Tamil politics
Dr Ramadoss's PMK is emerging as a viable alternative to the erstwhile corrupt politics of Tamil Nadu.
In the thirtieth year of its founding, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) is working towards bringing change in the course of Tamil Nadu politics by negating the corrupt politics of both the powerful Dravidian parties – the DMK and the AIADMK. It not only rejects both Dravidian parties it also outrightly rejects the BJP at the Centre.
PMK, historically, has been a party born out of a movement that had stressed upon the importance of reservation for most backward classes. The PMK's success lies in having achieved the objectives, not only for its own party but also for the other caste movements usurped in a similar vein. After achieving the desired goal, PMK transformed its stance from a movement to an established political party.
In the three decades that PMK has been relevant in the political sphere, a few notable features grab attention. PMK, first, has remained grounded to its objective and has constantly echoed its voice against casteism and in favour of the subalterns. The party has endeavoured to integrate all subaltern forces that were earlier pushed to the fringes of society. Further, PMK has consistently attempted to change the face of politics by building an alternate framework emphasising entirely on development. It extensively speaks of development with a humane perspective in the backdrop of green politics. No other party in Tamil Nadu has envisioned such an encompassing agenda for development with delineated strategies worthy of implementation.
The PMK has been astute in its planning, which is also evident in its strong networking. The founder of PMK, Dr Ramadoss, regularly reaches out to intellectuals in Tamil society, not only to seek their ideas but also to strengthen many aspects of his own political agenda. Capitalising on criticism, he has openly appealed to intellectuals to shed light on the lapses in PMK's strategy, if any. The PMK has been able to gain support from sections of society who are desperately seeking an alternate course of politics in their state. Dr Ramadoss, the founder, has been instrumental in establishing opinions that can fuel change in Tamil society. His paradigms of developments have been construed without any compromise, even without thinking of the electoral outcome. This aspect is very rare today, whether in Tamil Nadu or beyond.
Adhering to his politics of change, Ramadoss has been vociferously campaigning for the redemption of politics – to free it from the wretched clasps of corrupt officials. Ramadoss has been particularly active in condemning the alcohol menace in the state. In today's time, he is the only person who has consistently struggled against the policy of the government that lends protection to TASMAC, Tamil Nadu's marketing corporation that reins a freehand monopoly on wholesale and retail alcohol in the state. Among the politicians of today, he is the only one with an impeccable record of struggling for the upliftment of the poor.
Despite these many successes, why the PMK could not move beyond certain frontiers continues to remain a question. The dominant parties have played a role in trying to fragment the PMK to prevent it from consolidating its vote share – an essential aspect of winning elections and forming the government. Ramadoss has also often been coloured in a negative tint, with local media projecting him as casteist. Gradually though, many intellectual groups have come out in his support, expressing solidarity for his party's progressive agenda and fresh vision.
Second, so far, chief ministers in Tamil Nadu have emerged only from nominated caste groups. Nevertheless, the economy of Tamil Nadu is in support of PMK's philosophy. If the PMK does come to power, it will be for the first time in Tamil Nadu that a representative of a major caste has assumed the chair of the Chief Minister.
The PMK does enjoy an advantage at this point in time. Due to a rapid fluidity flowing through Tamil politics today, new formations have had an easier time coming into existence. This has resulted in the established parties struggling to consolidate and maintain their own cadres; while the PMK has managed to maintain a grip on its own party members. This is a major victory for the party, for now. PMK is both a movement and a party. However, it is still struggling to find its grip in the scheme of political activities in Tamil Nadu.
Dr Ramadoss has, nevertheless, left an open invitation to the Left and Congress parties. If it is able to garner the support of at least a few outfits, PMK has the ability to transform the political narrative of Tamil Nadu.
(The author is Professor and Rajiv Gandhi Chair for Panchayati Raj Studies, Gandhigram Rural Institute. The views expressed are strictly personal)