Despite trying hard, Dalit parties have not been able to gain power in the state, and Rajini could be the answer.

Grasping at straws Why Thirumavalavan is welcoming Rajini into politics
news Politics Sunday, June 18, 2017 - 21:35

Superstar Rajinikanth is once again making noise about entering politics, this time a little more seriously than in the past. And Thol Thirumavalavan, leader of the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK), a leading Dalit outfit in Tamil Nadu, has heartily welcomed the prospect, saying Rajini could actually fill the vacuum left by a deceased Jayalalithaa and an incapacitated Karunanidhi.

It was not a stray remark, mind you. Thiruma's lieutenants have followed up, noting that Rajini had “projected Babasaheb Ambedkar’s philosophy in his last film, which was directed by a promising Dalit filmmaker. The duo has teamed up yet again, showing Rajini sir is keen on grooming Dalits with talent…”

So, what is Thirumavalavan up to? Is he hoping to forge an alliance with Rajini and use that to pick up a few seats in the state assembly, as also in the parliament?

Tale of two failures

Both he and Dr. Krishnasamy of the Pudhiya Thamizhagam, the two prominent Dalit leaders of note in Tamil Nadu, seem to be groping in the dark at the moment, with major parties shying away from them, presumably because any alliance with Dalit outfits could alienate the OBC voters. 

Dalit leaders of previous generations were content with trading in the votes at their command for some favour or the other. It was Krishnasamy and Thol Thirumavalvan who insisted on proper political recognition, and almost got it.

The Pudhiya Thamizhagam (PT) made an impressive debut in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, polling thousands of votes in six or seven constituencies. In the next elections, the late Karuppiah Moopanar sought to forge an alliance with both Krishnasamy’s party and Thirumavalavan’s VCK, one representing the Pallar segment and the other Paraiyars (Adi Dravidars).

The Dalits constitute up to 20 per cent of the population, and the two were thought to have galvanized the entire Dalit community in a big way with their fiery rhetoric.

Moopanar, who had walked out of the Congress and floated his own Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) to sweep the 1996 Lok Sabha polls in alliance with the DMK, was desperate when Karunanidhi moved over to the BJP camp. Hence his Dalit initiative.

The TMC-front flopped in 1999, but both the Dalit parties fared reasonably well in terms of votes polled in their respective pockets.

After some impressive back-to-back wins, Krishnasamy began to strut around as the sole leader of all Dalit segments. He forgot that his Pallar constituency was concentrated essentially in central and southern districts, while the Paraiyars (Adi Dravidars) are spread all over the state. Inevitably his stars faded, while major parties began to court Thirumavalavan avidly.

But unfortunately for him too, there was rapid polarization as many intermediate caste leaders began to flex their muscle. Even the DMK, for all its claims of an inclusive Tamil approach, began to keep the VCK at a distance.

So much so, that when the 94th birthday of the DMK patriarch Karunanidhi was celebrated with much fanfare and many leaders from across the country were invited, Thiruma was scrupulously kept out.

The other major party, the AIADMK, is anyway known as a party of the powerful intermediate caste of Mukkulathors, who are mostly daggers drawn against the Dalits. Gounders, a relatively prosperous OBC from the western belt and equally notorious for their hostility to the Dalits, are locked in a bitter struggle for supremacy in the party. So, the VCK is not welcome there either.

Superstar to the rescue?

It is in such a backdrop that Thiruma’s overtures to Rajinikanth should be seen. It is generally believed that Dalit youth form a strong component of the actor’s fan following. So, in order to consolidate his hold on them, Rajini could take in Thiruma, the latter’s supporters seem to hope.

Before Moopanar tempted him into the electoral arena, he used to hit out at the oppressor castes in incendiary language. Several cases were booked against him. He didn’t do anything concrete, yes, still he would at least make OBC leaders shudder. But after he became a vote-seeker, he became appropriately contrite in an attempt to expand his base. He latched on to the Tamil nationalist bandwagon even though Tamil nationalism is almost anti-Dalit in nature, or at least impervious to the lot of the oppressed communities.

Such was his anxiety to become ‘acceptable’ that Thiruma gave up on even token attempts at Dalit assertion against untouchability. Cheesed off youngsters started moving towards other parties, including actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth’s DMDK.

As he found the ground slipping under him, he tried some rearguard action, taking on Vanniyar leader Ramadoss, till then his ally of sorts and who waxed eloquent of a rainbow coalition a la Kanshi Ram’s. He too reverted to become blatantly casteist when his political fortunes started dipping.  By changing tack, the VCK leader could be said to have contained the damage a little, but not much.

In 2016 polls, he was also part of a third front comprising the Left and the mercurial Tamil nationalist Vaiko’s MDMK, but it too failed to click.

But his relentless quest for acceptability continues, only this time he is looking longingly towards Rajinikanth. Whether his community gains anything or not, at least he can manage to retain some stature.

Krishnasamy of PT had had some grounding in Marxism during his college days, and he used to flaunt it occasionally in the beginning. As mentioned earlier, he wanted to be known as the leader of all Dalits in the state and won’t even acknowledge Thiruma as of any consequence at that juncture.

Over time as the tenuousness of his hold on the Dalit population became clear and other political parties began to give him a wide berth, Krishnasamy turned into a Pallar leader, pure and simple, ignoring other Dalit sects. So much so, he opposes inner reservation for the more disadvantaged, like the Arundhatiyar (cobblers and manual scavengers essentially). He has also said he will take out rallies demanding that his sect be taken out of the SC list.

His relentless efforts to woo the AIADMK came a cropper too. These days, he is going about lauding the “visionary leadership” of Narendra Modi, possibly hoping to become a BJP ally.

With the seeming failure of both Krishnasamy and Thirumavalavan, the Dalit population is back to the situation before their emergence in the late nineties.

In social media networks, Dalit activists could be seen speaking up for any Dalit personality who can have banners erected, wall-posters pasted and can collect small crowds. Even thugs and history-sheeters are hailed. Any non-Dalit raising questions over the integrity of the Dalit leaders is dubbed casteist or arrogant, or both.

There doesn’t seem to be any easy way out. A Bhim army here is unlikely in the near future, and so the Dalits would continue to plod, grateful for any crumbs coming their way. Between them, Krishnasamy and Thirumavalavan could be said to have successfully squelched all militancy in their ranks.

Note: Opinions expressed are author's own.

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