PMK in search of relevance

However, the 2009 Lok Sabha polls were a total disaster for the PMK, which lost all the six seats it contested. In five seats, its rivals won by a margin of more than one lakh votes. It even lost in its stronghold, Dharmapuri. In the assembly elections last year, it aligned itself with J. Jayalalithaa's AIADMK and was given 30 seats. It was able to scrape through in three constituencies only, and did not make any mark in Tamil Nadu's Vanniyar belt.

At the moment, the PMK is a party desperately seeking relevance. It has tried to build ties with Dalit leader Thol Thirumavalavan's party, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK). This bizarre alliance was the PMK's attempt at social engineering a la Mayawati, because the Vanniyars have never hidden their dislike for the Dalits. With the recent verbal and violent attacks against the Dalits, the attempted alliance appears to have failed. Thirumavalavan has reportedly demanded a CBI inquiry into the recent violence, arguing that it was a premeditated attack that the PMK was responsible for. He has said that the Vanniyar Sangam, an arm of the PMK, brought together other castes against the Dalits and went on a rampage to prevent the party's decline.

There have always been simmering caste wars in Tamil Nadu, which occasionally escalate into violence. The state's shameful secret is that in spite of its high growth rate, high literacy levels and positive social indicators, it has not been able to eradicate untouchability. Outside urban areas, the "two tumbler" system (different glasses for Dalits in restaurants and tea shops) still exists. The Dalits have made considerable progress in the last few decades, and no longer tolerate indignities. They are also better off than some of the intermediary castes because of Tamil Nadu's reservation policy. The MBCs have not been able to use the reservation policy to their advantage as the Dalits have.

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