Where DMK banks on the Dalit vote
By Radha Venkatesan
RAMANATHAPURAM, MAY 3. In an election where the ``caste factor'' holds sway in Tamil Nadu, the now-aggressive Dalit voters in some of the southern districts appear to be tilting towards the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led front. One of the DMK's Dalit allies, Puthiya Tamilagam, has made inroads into several Dalit pockets down south and triggered a volatile polarisation between the Pallars, a major Dalit community, and its traditional non- Dalit rival, Thevars.
As the Pallars largely perceive the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam as a ``pro-Thevar'' party, a majority of these Dalits, traditional supporters of the AIADMK till the last election, appear to be shifting towards the DMK front. And, perhaps for the first time, the DMK bandwagon heavily leans on the Dalit factor to counter the ``pro-Thevar'' AIADMK in its southern stronghold.
The DMK, quite unsure of support from Thevar voters, is pinning its hopes solely on the Pallar population which numerically matches the Thevars in at least 30 t0 40 southern constituencies, particularly in the four districts of Ramanathapuram, Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli and Virudhunagar.
There is a palpable desperation among the DMK candidates in the southern districts to net the Dalit votes. The senior DMK leader and Minister for Law, Mr. Aladi Aruna, seeking re-election from Alangulam in Tirunelveli district, waits for about half an hour to receive the Puthiya Tamilagam (PT) leader, Dr. K. Krishnasamy, and takes him round the Dalit villages.
In Ramanathapuram constituency, another DMK Minister, Mr. Rehman Khan, accompanied by Dr. Krishnasamy, visits every Dalit pocket for a full day and night, to ensure that the Pallars solidly vote for him. A DMK strongman contesting from Kadaladi in Ramanathapuram district, Mr. Suba. Thangavelan, a Thevar candidate, claims that a visit by Dr. Krishnasamy to his constituency ``will bring the Dalit votes''.
A drive through the rural pockets in the deep south, particularly in Ottapidaram, Vasudevanallur, Sankarankoil and Paramakudi, where PT candidates are in the fray, shows the divide between the Thevar and Dalit votebanks. Most Dalit villages in these constituencies sport only PT posters, and in Thevar pockets, mostly only the pictures of the AIADMK leader, Ms. Jayalalitha.
In Kodiyankulam in Ottapidaram constituency, where Dr. Krishnasamy is contesting again, the village committee has ``decreed'' that only posters of PT would be allowed there. On the other hand, the PT candidates are unable to step into most of the Thevar villages, and they confine their campaigning to non- Thevar areas. Even the Thevar functionaries in the DMK are not enthusiastically working for the PT candidates, raising doubts over the DMK votes shifting to the Dalit party.
Pallars vs. Thevars
``It is not merely a fight between the DMK and the AIADMK in the southern districts. It is a contest between the PLs (Pallars) and MRs (Maravars-Thevars),'' claims a 70-plus farmer in Pattathur, a Dalit village near Sankarankoil. Particularly, in areas where the practice of untouchability and ``aggression by Thevars'', continue, the upsurge among Dalit youth in favour of the DMK-led front appears marked.
While the DMK appears pleased with this ``Dalit upsurge'', it is worried over what the party workers call the ``BC impact''. The presence of the Yadava community-based Makkal Tamil Desam appears to be helping the front overcome the ``BC factor'' in Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram districts. But in the Nadar-dominated Tirunelveli and Sivakasi districts, the mood of the BCs other than Thevars, remains an imponderable.