Rise of caste in Dravida land

http://www.indian-express.com/ie20010507/an2.html Amrith Lal

REPORTS from Tamil Nadu speak of senior members of the Dravidian movement discovering their caste identities. It is interesting to view this alongwith the exit of senior DMK leader Tamizhkudimagan from the party. Kudimagan, a former speaker and a minister, has been one DMK leader who even in the nineties resorted to the rhetoric of Tamil nationalism. Seen together, the two are indicators of the direction Tamil Nadu politics has taken: Caste and its alliances have overcome the plank of cultural nationalism which has been the dominant theme in Tamil Nadu politics since the 1950s.

It is not that caste has not been a factor here. The roots of political outfits with links to the Dravidian movement lie in the Self Respect Movement of Periyar E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker. But never has an election in the state been fought between two caste alliances.

What is unfolding now in Tamil Nadu is not a sudden phenomenon. The rhetoric of cultural nationalism has been on the wane since the seventies. Except that the DMK took long to realise it. It had its heyday when Anna used the media and cinema to make it the ideology of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). The astute politician he was, Anna had realised that the plank of nationalism would work better than the anti-Brahmanism of Periyar's Dravidar Kazhagam if the party ever aspired to come to power. The cry for Tamil and its culture as against Sanskrit, as during the Bhakti movement in the medieval centuries, could also provide a platform to those fighting the caste hierarchy. The movement did, for a considerable period, glue together caste groups with opposing economic interests.

The Congress leadership in the state was a willing player. It was the decision of the Rajagopalachari ministry in 1938 to make Hindi compulsory in schools that helped in the consolidation of Tamil nationalist forces which soon led to the demand for a separate Dravida Nadu. The DMK which was formed in 1949 carried on with the cry till 1962 when it joined the electoral mainstream for the first time.

It took an MGR, whose advantage wasn't a political brain but a carefully crafted screen image, to show that this plank of cultural nationalism was not unassailable. MGR had split the DMK to form AIADMK in 1972. Kalaingar (artist) as Karunanidhi is known was now opposed by Ezhai Thozhan (friend of the poor). MGR's political discourse was about simple things - food, his impoverished childhood, the trip to sleep on empty stomach. This injection of economics into political discourse changed the electoral scene in Tamil Nadu. Food for stomach has always triumphed over food for soul in democracies. The DMK came back to life only after the death of MGR in 1987.

In its second life, the DMK did keep the plank of cultural nationalism alive until the killing of Rajiv Gandhi in Sriperumbudur. Ever since, the spectre of Tamil nationalism evokes the ghosts of Sivarasan and Dhanu, the suicide bombers of the LTTE.

The cracking up of the anti-Brahmin umbrella happened alongside the decline of cultural nationalism as an emotional issue in Tamil Nadu. Improved literacy and decline in the number of poor brought to the fore new political and economic aspirations. The success of Vanniyar Sanghom, and later its political outfit, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, was an eyeopener to others on power play.

The emergence of an educated class among Dalits - Pallars in the south and Parayars in central Tamil Nadu - has led to caste consolidation in these areas. The riots during the mid-90s have polarised Dalits and dominant OBC groups including the Thevars leading to the emergence of vote blocks. Various elections since 1996 have demonstrated that these vote blocks can decide poll outcomes. The DMK and the AIADMK had no option but to agree to accommodate the new interests if they were serious about winning elections.

Karunanidhi has said this is his last election. The timing could not have been more appropriate. The patriarch of south Indian politics knows the rules of the game have changed. His ideology is dead. Alliterative oratory punctuated with gems from classical texts will not be able to match the arithmetic of castes. It is better to let the son speak the new language.

Dalit consolidation, a gain for DMK By Radha Venkatesan

CHENNAI, MAY. 6. For the ruling DMK, fighting a desperate battle for retaining power, the Dalit vote bank both in northern and southern districts, comes as a ``sure-fire'' ammunition. While in some of the southern districts, Dalit-Pallars appear to have largely shifted in favour of the Puthiya Tamizhagam, a constituent of the DMK-led front, in parts of the northern belt, the ruling party's other Dalit ally, Dalit Panthers of India (DPI), is slowly but surely consolidating the Dalit-Parayar community.

The DPI, which entered electoral politics as an ally of the TMC in the last parliamentary election, has made a perceptible foray into the Dalit pockets, particularly in Cuddalore, Perambalur and Ariyalur districts, besides parts of Villupuram.

And the aggressive Dalit youth in the south Arcot belt, who are openly defiant of the Vanniars, are the vociferous patrons of the DPI now.

It is this ``Dalit consciousness'' that gives the DMK an effective card to take on the Vanniar-dominant PMK, a key ally of the AIADMK in the northern belt.

With the Dalits outnumbering the Vanniars in most of the nearly 30 constituencies in Cuddalore, Perambalur, Ariyalur and Villupuram districts, this Dalit consolidation has clearly put the DMK in an advantageous position. And, clearly, the emergence of the DPI has cut into the traditional Dalit vote bank of the AIADMK in South Arcot, which has been the scene of violent conflicts between the DPI and the PMK over the past two years.

``For the first time, we are mainly banking on the Dalits. And, wherever we go it is the Dalits who give us an overwhelming response. Now, the DMK is for Dalits. And Dalits are for the DMK,'' beams the Transport Minister and DMK strongman in Villupuram, Mr. K. Ponmudi.

As the DPI is contesting the election on the DMK symbol, the possibilities of DPI votes not getting transferred to the DMK appear to have been negated.

The polarisation between the Dalit and Vanniar vote banks appears rather pronounced in the Chidambaram parliamentary constituency, where the DPI leader, Mr. R. Thirumavalavan, polled over 2.2 lakh votes in the last election, and the Perambalur Lok Sabha constituency.

And, the Dalit consolidation, has clearly changed the socio- political dynamics in the region. For instance, a Dalit farmhand at Vriddachalam in Cuddalore district, who was generally voting for the party her Vanniar farm owner favoured, is now openly defiant. ``If the Vanniars vote for their community-based party, why should I not back our party, the DPI?'' she argues.

And, most Dalit colonies in Cuddalore and Perambalur districts only feature the posters and pictures of Mr. R. Tirumavalavan.

But, to the disadvantage of the DMK-led front, the DPI is yet to strike root in Dharmapuri and Salem districts, and hence, the DMK-led front is unable to effectively counter the PMK-AIADMK combine there.

In the western belt of Coimbatore and Erode districts, where Arunthathiyars are the major Dalit section, there is no sign of a Dalit consolidation, though both the DPI and the PT are making some attempts. Interestingly, in the western belt, the AIADMK appears forging ahead.

Moopanar warns of casteism

Tiruchirappalli, May 6 (PTI)

Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) chief G K Moopanar today said casteist forces would 'poison' the political atmosphere in Tamil Nadu after the assembly polls. Caste based parties had already created chaos in the state and the voters were under utter confusion, a new phenomenon.

However, he hastened to add that Dalit parties like DPI and Puthiya Tamizhgam were not caste based outfits. Mr Moopanar said DPI, which was TMC's electoral ally in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, was transformed by his party into a matured political party from being a militant outfit.

Asked why he had not filed any case based on his corruption charges against the DMK Government, the TMC chief said there was no need to go the courts particularly when the electorate would be giving their verdict on May 10. He described as 'false propaganda' reports that AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha had entered into a secret pact with BJP since she was not criticising the latter in her campaign.

Asked whether Congress President Sonia Gandhi's decision to skip Tamil Nadu for electioneering would make an adverse impact on the AIADMK front's poll prospects, he replied in the negative. He said the results of assembly elections in five states would have an impact on the NDA Government at the centre. If the people rejected the BJP and its allies, it meant that they had lost faith in the Vajpayee government, he claimed. He did not anticipate any legal hurdle in Jayalalitha becoming the Chief Minister.

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