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AIADMK Caste survey : Solution for political injustice or a strategy to get ahead on the polls

On 1st December, Tuesday, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswamy of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) announced that the stategovernment would model a commission to work out the processfor collecting caste data.The announcement was made hours after a delegation of the Pattali Makkal Katchi led bythe former Union Minister Anbumani Ramadoss met Palaniswamy to stipulate a 20% quota for the Vanniyar community for government jobs and educational institutions.

The Vanniyar community is presently classified as one of the Most Backward Classes (MCB) in Tamil Nadu. Considered to be the most in number amongst the MBCs in the state, they form a powerful voting body. Their demand comes months ahead of the 2021 assembly elections taking place in April or May next year. The reservations in Tamil Nadu is 69% already.

The Pattali Makkal Katchi will fight the assembly elections in a political alliance involving the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Bharatiya Janata Party. In 2019, Anbumani Ramadoss was elected to the Rajya Sabha with the support of the AIADMK.

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The verdict to form the commission came on the day when the PMK instigated a state-wide protest to push for its stipulation. Party founder S Ramadoss had asked the cadre to protest with such brutality that the state would have no choice but to accept their demand for a separate quota.

As expected, the protest resulted in violence. The PMK cadres pelted stones at an express train when it was passing through Chennai suburbs. The Madras High Court was approached seeking that cases be registered against S Ramadoss and Anbumani Ramadoss (son) for instigating the state-wide protests.

The PMK has a violent history when it comes to protests, most prominently in 1987 demanding that an MBC category be cut out from the Backward Classes quota. This led to the deaths of 21 people. In 1989, the state’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government established the new MBC category with reservation of 20%.

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After the announcement about the commission was made, D Ravikumar DMK’s Lok Sabha MP and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi the general secretary, tweeted asking if the AIADMK would seek the release of the caste census information that the Centre already has in its possession.The Centre had carried out a Socio-Economic and Caste Census along with 2011 Census. The socio-economic data had been shared but the population of the castes census has not. The Centre is said to be wary of the political repercussions this could have.

Being a member of the National Democratic Alliance, the AIADMK should have had this data released. Instead, theyaim to conduct a new survey. Although, conducting a survey is no guarantee that the data would be released or that decisions about the quota would be based on the results.

In neighbouring Karnataka, the results of a socio-economic and caste survey conducted in 2015 have not been released yet. The reason often mentioned is that the numbers do not match the traditional claim of communities.This reason would hold good in Tamil Nadu as well. If the proposed survey, for example, finds that the Vanniyars in the population is less than 20%, the percentage of quota that they are demanding, it could lead to hostility from other caste groups.

As some have noticed, an exclusive quota for a particular community, rather than a category of communities, would not be feasible. After all, if an individual community is designated an exclusive quota rather than a sub-quota within a larger category such as the Most Backward Classes, all communities in the category who are eligible for such quotas could demand the same.

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If the Vanniyars do attain a 20% quota without the MBC quota being reduced, the total percentage of reservations in the state would move up to 89%.Given the twists and turns of thisissue, the decision to carry out a caste survey seems to be a rouse for political balancing prior to Assembly election rather than a worthwhile solution to the question of social injustice.