DMK makes first counter move by aligning with Dalit party

From S Murari
DH News Service

The entry of Puthiya Tamizhagam, a Dalit party representing the relatively upwardly mobile Pallar sub-caste in southern Tamil Nadu, into the DMK-led National Democratic Front is the first of a series of counter-moves Chief Minister and DMK President M Karunanidhi is expected to make ahead of Assembly elections in May to offset the loss of Pattali Makkal Katchi to the rival AIADMK-led secular front.

Unlike the Dalit Panthers of India, an equally militant outfit like the PT which represents the lower Pariah sub-caste dominant in northern Tamil Nadu, the PT and the Vanniar-based Pattali Makkal Katchi are not at loggerheads, their spheres of infuence being different. While the Pallar community is concentrated in southern Tamil Nadu, the Vanniars are clustered in northern and parts of western Tamil Nadu.

Puthiya Tamizhagam leader K Krishnaswamy's hold on the Pallar community is as strong as the following PMK's founder-leader S Ramadoss has among Vanniars.If the entry of PMK is a boon to the AIADMK which is relatively weak in northern Tamil Nadu, the inclusion of Puthiya Tamizhagam will be a shot in the arm for the DMK in southern districts.

The admission of the PT into the DMK front is a signal to other caste-based parties, particularly the Dalit Panthers of India which is now with the TMC and is unhappy over the entry of the PMK, its arch rival, into the AIADMK front. If TMC leader G K Moopanar does not agree to lead a third front, DPI leader S Thirumavalavan may be fored to join the DMK front. Likewise, other newly formed caste parties like the New Justice Party and the Makkal Tamil Desam too may have tieup with the DMK if the TMC decides to go with the AIADMK.

The PMK or the PT may not have total sway over the community. But they have enough following to make a dent at the micro level which is crucial in Assembly elections.The AIADMK has been traditionally strong in the southern districts since the days of M G Ramachandran, its phenomenal founder-leader. However, the advent of PT into politics in mid-nineties during the previous Jayalalitha rule has changed the political equation in the southern districts. The PT was originally a non-political organization called Devendrakula Vellalar Sangham on the lines of the Vanniar Sangham, It came into prominence when Dr Krishnaswamy took up the cudgels for the Pallars whose upward mobility was resented by the equally backward and equally militant Thevars in the south. The result was a series of bloody clashes, culminating in the Kodiankulam police excesses. It was this incident which brought Dr Krishnaswamy into political limelight. He contested the elections from there on Janata Party symbol and entered the Assembly as the sole repesentative of his party. It was only after the election that the PT got formal recognition.

The AIADMK having come to be identified as a party of the Thevars in the south, the Pallars too needed a powerful regional ally. Dr Krishnaswamy tried for the last five years to steer clear of both the DMK and the AIADMK, but could make little headway.Two developments made him soften his stand against the DMK. One was the murder of Anthony Muthu, a supervisor in Manjolai tea estate in southern Tirunelveli district during a strike by the PT-led estate labour. Dr Krishnaswamy has been cited as an accused in the FIR. Understandably, the case has not made much progress and the victim's widow has only recently moved the high court for speedy trial and action against Dr Krishnaswamy.

The second development is the failure of a short-lived third front experiment tried out by Tamil Manila Congress leader G K Moopanar after the DMK went with the BJP and the Congress firmed up with the Congress in 1999. Mr Moopanar then forged a kind of Dalit front, with Dr Krishnaswamy in the south and Dalit Panthers of India leader S Thirumavalavan in the north. The TMC and the PT even led an agitation in support of the Manjolai tea estate workers in Tirunelveli two years ago which led to violence, police firing and death of scores of agitators by drowning in the Tamraparani river.

Ironically, the Justice Mohan Commission which probed the incident has virtually white washed the incident, while recommending token punishment to two police personnel for excesses. Dr Krishnaswamy tore up the report in the last and concluding session of the Assembly.Even so, it was expected that sooner than later he would go with the DMK. A significant pointer to this was the arrest of his second in command Selvam, a local rowdy, in connection with the murder of auditor Pandian. The murder took place two or three years ago and no progress was made in the investigation so far thanks to Selvam's political clout. Selvam was of late proving to be a thorn in the side of Dr Krishnaswamy. His arrest was, therefore, aimed at consolidating Dr Krishnaswamy's hold over the party. Predictably, Dr Krishnaswamy expelled Selvam after his arrest. It is a different matter that his demand for the transfer of Chennai Police Commissioner P Kalimuthu, whom he has accused of having protected Selvam and thus emboldened him to attack the PT office after his expulsion, still continues in his post. That is because Mr Karunanidhi does not want to transfer a top Dalit officer on the eve of the elections.

Referred by:Sashi Kanth
Published on: February 19, 2001
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