The Tamil Nadu government on Tuesday announced that it would set up a commission to study methods to conduct a caste-based survey in the state, The Hindu reported.
Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s announcement came hours after he met a delegation of leaders from the Pattali Makkal Katchi, which has renewed an agitation demanding 20% reservation for Vanniyars – a Most Backward Community from northern parts of Tamil Nadu – in government jobs and higher education.
The Pattali Makkal Katchi is an ally of Palaniswami’s party All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and a part of the National Democratic Alliance. The PMK has claimed that Vanniyars account for 25% of the state’s population, but have only 8% representation in government jobs.
Several political parties and groups have for long demanded a caste-based survey in Tamil Nadu, and the demand has picked up ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections in 2021. Palaniswami’s decision to create a commission is being seen as a way to shut down critics and prevent large-scale reservation-based protests in the state.
“The government is involved in implementing a lot of welfare measures and the government has the responsibility in ensuring that it reaches all sections of the society,” Palaniswami said in a statement, according to Deccan Herald. “Moreover, we need the statistics to be presented before the Supreme Court which is hearing a case on 69% reservation.”
Tamil Nadu, with a quota of 69%, has the most extensive system of caste reservations in India. In 1992, the Supreme Court capped reservations in states at 50%. But Tamil Nadu bypassed this restriction by enacting a reservation law through a Constitutional amendment. This was brought into the 9th Schedule, which protected the law from judicial scrutiny. However, this law is before the Supreme Court and a final verdict on its legality is awaited.
PMK Founder S Ramadoss criticised the formation of the commission and said it was merely a delaying tactic. “Our party delegation met the chief minister and pressed for our demands,” he said. “When we were expecting an announcement on a 20% reservation, we got the news of the constitution of a commission. This is a time-consuming process and delaying tactics adopted by the government.”
On Tuesday morning, Pattali Makkal Katchi members had protested in various parts of the state and also engaged in stone pelting, reports said.
PMK leader and former Union minister Anbumani Ramadoss led the delegation of leaders who met Palaniswami on Tuesday. After the meeting, he told reporters in Chennai that theirs was not a caste-based protest and wasn’t targeted towards a particular community, according to The Indian Express.
“This is about social justice,” Ramadoss continued. “The Vanniyars are considered backward in matters of education and employment. There has been no development in areas they reside in. They are forced to migrate to other states for livelihood. There cannot be total development in Tamil Nadu unless the government commits to the welfare of the Vanniyar community.”
Ramadoss also denied reports that his party members were involved in violence. “We [PMK] are against violence,” he said. “Our cadres were denied entry to the city to take part in the protest. Just because some people were involved in violence doesn’t mean our party or the [Vanniyar] community had anything to do with it. We have been fighting for this cause for the last 40 years but haven’t got justice.”