Dalit consolidation and polarisation
By R. Ilangovan
MADURAI, APRIL 20. By roping in the Puthia Tamizhagam and the Dalit Panthers into its fold, the DMK has effectively compensated the loss of Mukkulathors (Thevars) in the south and Vanniyars in the northern districts.
The move, a calculated risk by the DMK, has also minimised the `possible damage' following the exit of the MDMK. The two major Dalit outfits have a proven track record of upsetting the heavyweights of established parties in select constituencies. However, political pundits argue that the DMK has distanced itself from other backward castes in the process.
An open `pro-Dalit' stance, they claim, will make the DMK ``an untouchable'' among the backward caste vote banks. ``Mr. Karunanidhi has chosen to tread the path of mines which blew away Mr. G. K. Moopanar in the last parliament election,'' says a DMK leader, who is a Thevar by caste. But the fact remains a total Dalit consolidation has taken place, despite a few differences among its sub-castes. ``The Assembly polls are decided on local issues in which the Dalits have a definite say,'' claims a Dalit activist.
A study on the performance of these two Dalit outfits in the 1996 Assembly and the Lok Sabha polls, held in 1998 and 1999, has a different tale to tell.
The Dalits remained mere vote banks for the Dravidian parties, until Dr. K. Krishnasamy of the Devendra Kula Velalar Federation (DKVF), taking advantage of the Kodiankulam Dalit uprising, contested the 1996 Assembly polls successfully from Ottapidaram in Tuticorin district. The Kodiankulam and Melavalavu massacres have provided an effective rallying point for all Dalits to get consolidated and, in turn, establish a `Dalit identity' in the State. Candidates of the DKVF contested in 11 Assembly segments in the 1996 general elections, both as independents and on the symbol of the Janata Party, and came close to the leading candidates, particularly in Paramakudi, Ramanathapuram, Muthukulathur, Kovilpatti, Vasudevanallur, Aruppukottai, Srivilliputhur and Rajapalayam.
The 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha polls surprised analysts with the Puthia Tamizhagam, a political front for DKVF, putting up a respectable performance in both the Tirunelveli and Tenkasi constituencies. During the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the Puthia Tamizhagam, in alliance with the TMC and the Janata Dal, contested nine Lok Sabha seats and figured among the top-line contestants in Ramanathapuram, Periyakulam, Tirunelveli and Tenkasi. The Puthia Tamizhagam's political baptism has prompted the Dalit Panthers to test the waters in the political arena of northern districts. Its state convener, Mr. R. Thirumavalavan, contested the Chidambaram Lok Sabha seat on TMC symbol.
The transformation of Dalit movements into political forces, has compelled established political parties to woo them into their fold. But it also has led to a sharp polarisation between Dalits and other backward castes. With the presence of a minimum 15 per cent population in most of the Assembly segments, the Dalits will undoubtedly make the difference between victory and defeat this time.