Caste cauldron keeps forces on toes

Karthik Subramanian

Chidambaram, May 7: IT IS not the vote you cast, but the caste you vote which seems to matter in Chidambaram taluk of Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu. Chidambaram constituency, traditionally known for its temples and communal flare-ups, is bracing itself for yet another violent polls.

Over 10,000 paramilitary forces are ready for deployment. So are the 500 odd armed reserve force and the district police. Violence is no stranger to these districts. The area adjoining Kumbakonam-Madras Highway has seen several communal flare-ups in the recent past, with the PMK and the Dalit Panthers, blaming each other for it.

Two years ago, six buses were burnt in clashes between two dominant communities in the rural areas of Kumarakudi and Sethiathoppe.

More recently, on April 29, PMK candidate for Chidambaram, Arivuchelvan, lodged a complaint with Cho-latharam police alleging his convoy was attacked by a rival camp, while he was returning from Than-daran Kuppam.

Incidentally, DPI convenor R. Thirumalvalavan was campaigning in Cholavaram that night. The emergence of PMK and DPI, dominated by Vanniyars and Dalits owing allegiance to the two parties respectively, has seen more such flare-ups in the last three to four years.

With over 1.6 lakh on cards, both the DMK as well as the AIADMK are playing the communal card this time around. DMK has fielded local lad K. Saravanan, son of former MLA Krishnamurthy, while on behalf of AIADMK front, PMK has fielded Arivu-chelvan.

Both candidates belong to the Vanniyar community. While the DMK is by far comfortable with the town voters, the fight for the rural electorate is a pitched one. The PMK has made an impact on rural masses, as was evident from the campaign trials of PMK leader S. Ramadoss and, more recently, his son R. Anbumani. It is here the DPI hopes to help DMK by garnering Dalit votes in the villages. One person who should worry DMK, even though on a minor scale, is MDMK candidate Mohanasundaram. A known leader, Mohanasundaram could end up gathering a crucial number of votes that could narrow the fight between DMK and PMK.

The fight could well be even as Arivuchelvan does not belong to Chidambaram. Despite his good attributes, he is from Ariyalur and the DMK cadre treat him as an outsider. The hypothesis that the respective community members will vote for parties claiming their loyalty could be disproved. There are sizeable AIADMK sympathisers even among Dalits and DPI sympathisers among Vanniyars, promising a tight finish in this constituency.

Caste rivalry can also hurt PMK prospects in the long-run

By Suresh Nambath

CUDDALORE, MAY 7. The PMK appears to have scripted its success story in the Vanniar belt through a combination of crude caste identity politics and shrewd electoral alliance strategies.

After having built up a vote bank by leading the Vanniar struggle for the Most Backward Classes in the late 1980s, the PMK founder, Dr. S. Ramadoss, made his party a key player in the northern districts, taking advantage of the rivalry between the DMK and the AIADMK.

Although Vanniars constitute more than one-third of the population in the northern districts, the PMK support base does not on an average extend much beyond 10 per cent. But this is enough to make the difference between victory and defeat for the DMK and the AIADMK in nearly 60 constituencies. The PMK derives its advantage as an ally from this situation.

Unlike Thevars, some of whom come under the Backward Classes category and others under the Most Backward Classes group, the Vanniars do not fall into different categories for reservation. The fight for an MBC status was a great unifier and it resulted in a movement toward Vanniar consolidation in favour of the PMK.

Most Vanniars credit the PMK, in its earlier incarnation as the Vanniar Sangham, with having brought the community the MBC status and the consequent reservation benefits. The PMK won over the Vanniar population in the more deprived rural areas at the cost of the AIADMK. In urban areas, many of the Vanniars are still with the DMK.

While the battle for the MBC status was indeed fought in relation to the reservation for the Scheduled Castes, it did not bring the Vanniars and the Dalits in direct opposition. Indeed, the PMK, once its struggle met with success, did become more accommodative of the Dalits in the initial stages. A Backward Class-Dalit- minority axis was one of the goals of the PMK.

The Parayar Dalits in the north found co-existence with the Vanniars easier as they were upwardly mobile having cornered most of the reservation benefits even at the cost of other Dalits in other regions. However, the assertion of the Dalit identity became inevitable as the PMK went ahead with the consolidation of the Vanniars.

Not surprisingly, the Dalit Panthers led by Mr. R. Tirumavalavan, who was initially with the PMK, became the biggest critic of Dr. Ramadoss. Unlike as in the south, where Thevar-Dalit clashes were frequent and violent, the Vanniar-Dalit conflict sharpened only with the political rivalry between the PMK and the Dalit Panthers. Now, the Vanniar- Dalit polarisation is only likely to increase.

However, apart from Dalit consolidation, the PMK does have another major worry: the growing caste-consciousness among other backward classes. Elite, dominant communities in the north, such as Mudaliars, have been edged out by the Vanniars in political representation, thanks to the PMK and its alliance with one or the other of the two major parties. Sections of the Mudaliars therefore felt the need to float the New Justice Party and ally with the DMK. The anti-Vanniar feeling among the other backward classes arose also on account of their losing some of their share of the reservation pie with the bifurcation of the backward classes category into MBC and BC.

Caste rivalry, as much as caste conflict, could then affect the prospects of the PMK in the long-run even if not in the immediate future.

Referred by: Mukundan CM
Published on: May 8, 2001
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