Focus shifts from Vanniar-Dalit divide in northern dts.

By Suresh Nambath

CHENNAI, OCT. 14. Although caste and sub-caste considerations play a bigger role in civic polls, where the size of the electorate is small, the focus of the current elections in the northern districts appears to have moved away from the invidious Vanniar- Dalit divide.

As elections to the lower tiers allow for the election of the representatives of the dominant caste group in each area, there is now less scope for resentment over being ``left out'' in the selection of candidates by major parties.

Also, the decision of the Dalit Panthers (DPI) to fight the elections on its own rather than be part of the AIADMK- led front has, to some extent, reversed the Vanniar-Dalit caste polarisation in the north.

And, unlike in the south, where the Thevar-Dalit hostility takes on crude forms, the Vanniar-Dalit conflict in the northern areas does not assume serious proportions.

The two main caste-based parties - the Vanniar PMK and the DPI - appear to have realised the situation: the campaign is not marked by any overly casteist rhetoric.

The DPI is now seeking a ``positive vote'' without hinging its campaign entirely on an anti-PMK platform. ``We are trying to prove our support base after contesting the 1999 Lok Sabha election and the 2001 Assembly election as part of different fronts,'' says Mr. B. Kishore, DPI candidate for Cuddalore municipality.

In the DPI, there is a feeling that it is useless to fight the PMK as part of a major front. During the Assembly election and now, the DPI had to revise its electoral strategy consequent to the entry of the PMK into its front. But having fought the Assembly election in the company of the DMK, and having got its leader, Mr. R. Tirumavalavan, elected MLA on the DMK symbol, the DPI has a lot more at stake now. Although the DPI targets the DMK for having valued PMK as a more useful ally, the criticism is not severe.

The problem for the DPI is in ensuring Dalit consolidation without giving it an excessive anti-PMK orientation. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that the party has one foot in the PMK-inclusive DMK alliance.

As for the PMK, it is working overtime to prove its usefulness as an ally of the DMK. The party, having already established its Vanniar base, steers clear of any anti-Dalit rhetoric. Although there are sections in the DMK which view the PMK as ``unreliable,'' the Vanniar-based party is ensuring ground level coordination.

Unlike in the case of the lower tiers, the elections to the higher tiers witnessed intense competition among different castes during nomination process of the major parties.

But, as there is a palpable drop in enthusiasm levels when compared to the Assembly election, the election campaign is not bogged down in casteism.

And, ironically enough, though caste considerations are still in play, casteism is not propped up by hatred. Instead, caste is being utilised to create ``community vote-banks'' without bringing other communities under attack. There is more of wooing of votes using the community label, and less of forced consolidation of votes by pointing to other communities as ``the enemy.''

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Referred by:: Benjamin P Kaila
Published on:15 oct, 2001
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