Anbumani Ramadoss was named the president of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) – the party founded by his father S Ramadoss – on Saturday, thus becoming the latest inheritor of a political legacy in Tamil Nadu.
If the major strength of the PMK is its significant vote base among the OBC-Vanniyar community, which faces many social challenges in northern Tamil Nadu, in the past three decades since its formation in 1989, that association has also led to the PMK being identified with caste pride and violence, especially against the Dalits. The biggest challenge before Anbumani, an MBBS graduate, would be to recast the party as one that can capture the youth.
At 53, he may not be too young, but compared to leaders of other major parties in the state, he has age on his side. The window though might be narrowing given the BJP’s ambitions in Tamil Nadu, riding on the PMK’s weakened ally AIADMK.
Apart from an MBBS degree, Anbumani’s impressive biodata includes a short course from the London School of Economics and some ‘international awards’, such as one from the World Health Organisation for “tobacco control”. Aides say Anbumani also prides himself on the fact that he has “no film background”, unlike several other wannabe political heirs.
Anbumani is most well known though for introducing several schemes such as the National Rural Health Mission, under which ASHA workers were appointed, as Union health minister under the UPA-I government. In 2016, he was the PMK’s chief ministerial candidate and, with that bid going nowhere, is currently a Rajya Sabha member.
However, like M K Stalin, Anbumani has bided his time for the PMK top post, working largely in the shadow of his father Ramadoss and leading the party in alliance talks.
A close Anbumani aide said: “Even if Anbumani had been active and influential in the party, the final decision used to be his father’s. But Ramadoss is past 80 now. This day marks the beginning of a change.” Ramadoss marked Anbumani’s elevation Saturday with a tearful hug before party workers.
Supporters hope that the change will also reflect in altering the image of the party from one notorious for violent caste riots by its cadres. The Dharmapuri riots of 2012, for example, in which over 200 Dalit houses were attacked, with the role played by the father and son Ramadoss facing criticism. In an earlier interview with The Indian Express, Anbumani had said: “Look, we are not a casteist party. The PMK is a political party…”
On another issue, prohibition, Anbumani is expected to support his father’s line of seeking a ban on liquor, for which he waged many battles including legal. Under him as Union health minister, smoking was banned in public across the country.
G K Mani, who stepped down as PMK president after 25 years, to make way for Anbumani, said Saturday that it was time for the younger generation to take charge, and to lead the way to “PMK 2.0”.