For a statistician,the consistent front hopping of Dr S Ramadoss over the years would make his snapping of ties with the DMK predictable. Even the Congress declared it was not surprised when the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) quit the UPA. The regional partys strategy has,of course,ensured that the PMK remained in power at the Centre since 1998,even as the NDA gave way to the UPA. While critics call it opportunism at its worst,Ramadoss insists it is a strategy designed to serve the best interests of his party.
The PMK is a relatively recent political entity. When he launched the party in July 1989,Ramadoss,a doctor by training,had the influential Vanniyar caste with him as his bargaining chip. Though they make up the single-largest community in Tamil Nadu,Vanniyars had their allegiance split across party lines,which Ramadoss streamlined into one entity with the formation of the Vanniyar Sangam in 1980,followed by the political party nine years later. Over the years,the PMK tempered into a mainstream political party,toning down it demands for bifurcation of the state. It also intervened in the Vanniyar-Dalit clashes and made efforts to turn the two communities into partners to leverage their combined voting power. This is why Thol Thirumavalavan,leader of the Dalit party Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK),urged Ramadoss to remain in the same front.
Meanwhile,the party strongly promoted Tamil pride,taking on causes such as the Sri Lankan Tamil issue,Cauvery and other water disputes. It also tried its hand at moral policing. At one point,the PMKs female workers made news when they brandished brooms and footwear outside actor Khushboos house to protest against her comments on premarital sex. Since then,its social interventions have been limited to protests over alcohol and tobacco consumption. In a state where all political parties try to maintain control over the mass media,Ramadoss also started a channel,Makkal TV,and a Tamil daily,Tamil Osai,to get the PMKs message across.
Though the PMKs actual vote-share is only a little above 6 per cent,it wields considerable clout during poll time and has a say in deciding the fate of candidates in northern districts and a few others as well. Beyond that,it is all about smart calculations. Like all successful regional parties,the PMK has a transferable vote bank,allowing it to switch allegiances seamlessly from the DMK to AIADMK and BJP to Congress.
Ramadoss sees no contradiction in aligning with ideological opposites to stay in power. Only those parties who align with us have been victorious since 1998, he said to loud cheers from his general council members,who had just voted in favour of an alliance with the AIADMK on Thursday.
Mark my words in your diaries. On May 16,when the results of Lok Sabha elections are announced,the alliance that we are part of will be victorious. And then you all can give me a call and at least leave a note of appreciation, Ramadoss told mediapersons. Then,pointing at reporters,he told party members: They are all gathered here from across the world because we can decide who wins elections here.
But the PMKs reputation,of course,is not perfect. Investigative reports by the press including The Indian Express brought out a scam regarding allotment of petrol outlets and LPG dealerships to those affiliated to the PMK by E Ponnusamy while he was Union minister of state for petroleum between 1998 and 2001. The PMK chief also earned some flak when his son Anbumani Ramadoss was made a Rajya Sabha member and the Union Health Minister when the opportunity aroseRamadoss Sr had been a vocal critic of DMK president and Chief Minister M Karunanidhis family politics.
Then there are the partys rivals. Many DMK leaders,most of them district secretaries and state ministers,have a strong aversion to Ramadoss. Many of them are also Vanniyar,but were against any arrangement with the PMK right from the beginning,although Chief Minister Karunanidhi had given the Congress the go-ahead to negotiate with the PMK to remain in the alliance. They are out to prove a point to Doctor Ayya,as Ramadoss is sometimes known.
The Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) is another immediate threat to the party,as it has a similar vote bank and was formed in opposition to Ramadoss. When actor Vijayakanth became a full-fledged politician in 2006 by floating the DMDK,the tussle with Ramadoss,consistently opposed to actors fan clubs and their political involvement,was one of the partys immediate causes. Vijayakanth also proved a point by winning the Assembly elections the same year from Virudhachalam,a PMK bastion until then.
Nonetheless,the party is now at a relative position of strength,when compared to those who made their debut with it in the 1998 elections. Vaikos MDMK is now dependent on AIADMK,the BJP plays a minor role and the Janata Party is marginal.