Thirumavalan feels that communalism is the most urgent danger facing the country, and needs an alliance of all secular parties.

Casteism feeds Hindutva both must be urgently combatted Thol Thirumavalavan tells TNM
news Interview Monday, June 12, 2017 - 14:32

As the leader of a major Dalit party in Tamil Nadu, Thol Thirumavalavan has been consistently speaking out against the dangers of Hindutva and casteism. Arguing that Hindutva and casteism feed each other, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader feels that the combination of these forces is a pointed danger to the country that has to be combatted. Talking to TNM, he explains why every non-communal, non-casteist force should come together to fiercely combat Hindutva.

How do you see DMK’s diamond jubilee celebrations? Do you think it has brought anti-BJP forces together?

It was more political and less about Kalaignar’s own 60 years in the Assembly. I think the DMK should have focused more on that. Leaders from Tamil Nadu, his friends, and representatives from cinema and literature – where Kalaignar has made a considerable contribution – should have been invited. That said, yes, I see this meeting as an attempt to bring anti-BJP leaders together at the national level.

And is it important to bring anti-BJP leaders together at the national level?

Absolutely. We believe it can happen only at the national level. At VCK, we believe communalism is more dangerous than other social issues like corruption or liquor. We passed a resolution at our meeting on May 5, urging the Left to assume a tougher role in consolidating anti-BJP forces. We wish they would listen.

What do you think is the problem the Left has in doing it?

It is not that the Left has not had an electoral relationship with the Congress. They have supported UPA governments in the past. But they apparently follow the equidistance policy vis-à-vis the BJP and the Congress. While I would not call the Congress an entirely secular party, I do think we should join hands with the Congress to defeat the BJP. I know it is not guided by our principles but this is a strategy. Strategy ought not to be confused with principle, especially at times like this. It is a problem in Tamil Nadu too, where parties like the Left parties want to maintain an equidistance between the DMK and the AIADMK.

In Tamil Nadu too?

Yes, I do believe the Makkal Nala Kootani was frittered away because of this. Even in Tamil Nadu the most important, vital challenge facing us is to defeat the BJP and Hindutva forces. As a nation, we are moving to a very dangerous situation and it is the responsibility of every party to counter this. The DMK too comes under this – under the need to consolidate non-castiest and non-communal forces to fight the dangers of Hindutva. For us DMK is a better ally because Kalaignar has taken firm stands in favor of social justice and against communalism. But I am still not sure if the DMK’s present anti-BJP position is guided by its principles.

Do you sense any disinterest from the DMK side in joining hands with the VCK?

I do, and I think the problem lies with the DMK’s castiest forces. They have been counseling the DMK’s leadership against aligning with the VCK, claiming they will lose the votes of other castes. It is for the DMK leadership to take a call on this.

But in vote-bank driven politics that is a potential danger.

No, it has been established that aligning with the VCK has not dented their other vote banks. In 2009, when the Sri Lankan war was an issue, the DMK faced the elections with the Congress and the VCK and we fared decently. This idea that VCK harms the other vote banks of the DMK was floated in a Tamil magazine after we lost the 2001 elections. I asked Kalaignar about it and he immediately brushed it off. He pointed out that we (the DMK-VCK combine) had won five out of nine seats in Cuddalore district where the VCK was strong. So, this construction is basically flawed.

But don’t you think the caste polarisation is more acute now than a few years ago in Tamil Nadu?

Very much so. And I would only blame the PMK for it. It started in the 1980s when PMK was becoming a political outfit from a caste outfit. Many caste outfits followed suit. I could list many examples. Though, of course, they didn’t do as well as the PMK. PMK was perceived to be more sober after becoming a political party, but after losing the elections in 2009 and 2011 the party is resorting to caste lines again. They started speaking about the consolidation of Vanniyars – irrespective of which party they belong to. This is being done by other castes too. In Dharmapuri, the violence that followed Ilavarasan-Divya episode was clearly well-planned. Dr Ramadoss is using violence to further his own political future.

Do you see an alliance between caste parties and Hindutva forces in states like Tamil Nadu?

I think casteism feeds Hindutva. Only when someone takes pride in a particular caste, is he capable of being proud as Hindu. Casteism and communalism complement each other so well and need to be countered at all levels. Some speak of opposing communalism and not caste. Some narrow it down to opposing Brahminism. It is important to oppose caste pride in any caste. This dangerous trend of alliances between caste forces and communal forces, when it happens, will first target (Dalit) colonies and slums. That is my worst fear and that is why I think we should take on the Hindutva forces without any compromise.

But this fear is not shared by another Dalit party – Puthiya Thamizhagam. They even speak against reservation.

I have never seen Puthiya Thamizhagam’s Dr Krishnaswamy speak anything about annihilation of caste in all these years.  We should remember that caste discrimination has a long history. But reservation has been existing only for about hundred years. We should remember that reservation, as a social justice tool, is combating caste rigidity in a very effective way. I think it is wrong to call reservation a ‘humiliation’ – Caste is, caste hierarchy is.

Do you think Dalit consolidation is possible?

Not when some Dalit parties are keen to toe the line of Hindutva interests. It is in the interest of Hindutva that reservation is done away with and caste is upheld. I have nothing common with a Dalit in, say, Maharashtra, except that we have reservation. If we identify ourselves by our castes, reservation becomes meaningless. If Paswan call me his brother, that feeling of brotherhood comes because we have been consolidated as Scheduled Castes, though it is for administrative purposes. The Hindutva forces wants to undo this, want us to be only caste forces so that we are at loggerheads with each other. Only then it nurtures their concept of Hindutva. Reservation helps combat this. 

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