Degrees of Touchability
The PMK'S growth and electoral success over the last decade has given birth to various caste-based parties in Tamil Nadu. From just one in 1991, its tally went up to four assembly seats in 1996. And from four Lok Sabha members in 1998—and one cabinet ministership—it managed five seats and two ministers in 1999.
Now every major caste has a party in the state. The Yadavs of Tamil Nadu have the Tamizh Makkal Desam, headed by former aiadmk minister S. Kannappan and backed by former Indian Bank chairman M. Gopalakrishnan. The Mudaliars have The New Justice Party, headed by former aiadmk MP A.C. Shanmugham. The Thevars already have a political party—Forward Bloc—and have formed another, Muvendar Munnetra Kazhagam, under the leadership of Dr Sethuraman. The Telugu-speaking Naidus of Tamil Nadu have floated the Dravida Telugu Kazhagam. There are two major Dalit parties: the Pudiya Tamizhagam led by Dr Krishnaswamy representing the Pallar sub-sect of the southern districts, and the Dalit Panthers led by Thirumavalan, representing the Parayar sub-sect of the northern districts. There is the Kongu Vellar party too. All these parties, barring the Dalit ones, are openly opportunistic and declare they would align with whoever gives them more seats. The big players are not able to really asses the strengths of these caste-based parties. So far, no big party has had the courage to distance itself from these forces. A reluctance that could well spell doom for the democratic process of the state.