The scenario is bleak for parties that champion the cause of the weakest of the lot.

How political parties seeking to represent the weak and oppressed in Tamil Nadu have failed miserably
news TN 2016 Tuesday, April 05, 2016 - 09:46

“Instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people in Parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people…”  Such was the vision of Karl Marx, the social scientist nonpareil. He was commenting on the abortive commune experiment of 1792.

Well, the aspirations were to remain unrealized then and ever thereafter, anywhere in the world, despite the smug claims of democracy being for the people, by the people and of the people.

While appallingly corrupt politicians or those accused of mass murders strut around as mass leaders, the outfits that claim to work for the betterment of the lot of marginalized remain marginalized themselves.

In Tamil Nadu, the two communist parties -  CPM and CPI - and the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK), speaking up for the large Parayar segment among the Dalits, are part of a third front of sorts, but they are banking on the charisma of actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth and the lung power of Vaiko, a Tamil nationalist whose stature has been shrinking progressively.

The front could bag up to 25% vote share, which could in turn tilt the balance in favour of the AIADMK, some surveys predict. But the point to be noted is that whatever happens, the credit will go essentially to Vijayakanth’s DMDK.

Already newspaper headlines are screaming that it is the DMDK that would be catapulting Jayalalithaa back to power.

Some rough idea of what each constituent polls can be gauged perhaps, but not very precisely. How is one to decide which votes are from the supporters of the respective parties and which from the allies?  Vijayakanth and his wife Premalatha, not exactly known for their modesty, will go town if the front does bag a significant share and thus increase their bargaining position in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, making light of the contribution of others.

There is Puthiya Thamizhagam, representing the much smaller Pallar segment among the Dalits, and it does not know where it is headed. It had made a striking entry in 1998, polling a substantial number of votes and causing the defeat of the DMK-TMC alliance in seven or eight constituencies in the mid-term elections to the Lok Sabha. Its fortunes have since nosedived and hence does not have many takers. 

Two Muslim parties, the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) have been accommodated in the DMK-led front. Yet another Muslim grouping is also knocking at the doors of the DMK.

Karunanidhi and Stalin were reluctant to have Dalit or Muslim parties in their midst – the feedback from the ground was it was their presence that put off many in the last Assembly elections. Jayalalithaa too would not accommodate them for similar reasons.

In the circumstances, while the VCK thought it fit to join hands with the Left to float a new front, the MNMK chose to cast it lot with the DMK front.

While the IUML is virtually a paper outfit, with little popular support, it is the MNMK that is seen as more representative of the Muslim interests. It had gained credibility by actively working for those affected by the anti-Muslim riots and the blasts in Coimbatore back in 1998. But it also could adopt fundamentalist posturing every now and then, and hence some Hindu segments are wary of them.

Since the DMK has no major ally apart from the Congress, perhaps it thought it was okay to placate the Muslim sentiments. Puthiya Thamizhagam too could similarly benefit by the DMK’s “generosity.” But the overall prospects of the DMK front are not seen to be all that bright as of now.

Thus it is possibly a bleak scenario for the parties that champion the cause of the weakest of the lot.

Failing to consolidate their base despite their dramatic success in the very first elections after the Independence, the communists have thought little of jumping into one bandwagon or another to remain electorally relevant. In the process they have had to defend the indefensible and wait on Karunanidhi or Jayalalithaa, demeaning themselves no end.

The previous secretary of the CPI had come to be widely ridiculed as a Jaya flunkey. His obsequiousness was obscene, but none from within the party seemed to have any objection.

The CPM is a tad better, holding its own despite alliances, now stepping up its work among the Dalits, but it still has not been able to make much of a headway.  Such is their plight they are willing to accept the leadership of a Vijayakanth or Vaiko at the very time they are talking of alternative politics. They have precious little room for leverage in the electoral arena.

The Dalit parties like the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal or Putiya Thamizhagam initially seemed to be earnest and determined to assert their self-respect too, in a remarkable contrast to previous leaders who were content to trade the votes at their command for some favours.

But Dr Krishnasamy burnt out quickly thanks to his vaulting ambition and arrogance. Well, yes, Thirumavalavan is performing much better, but then a key factor in his favour is that his Parayar sect is spread throughout the state, whereas Pallars are concentrated in the south.

That apart Thiruma has been toning down his attacks on upper and intermediate castes, mouthing Tamil nationalism and taking care not to antagonize the major Dravidian parties.  In the process, he has almost given up caste-specific programmes.

Pallar leader Krishnasamy too has long since given up any confrontation with the oppressors and is even more intent on ensuring a place for himself under the sun.

The third key sect, Arundhathiyars, have no political organization worth mentioning. The Pallar and Parayar outfits never warm up to them – if anything they look upon the former, at the bottom of the pyramid, with absolute contempt.

As for the Muslim groupings, even those which sought to more aggressively fight discrimination and injustice have been forced to soften their rhetoric to become acceptable to the mainstream.

Thus they all ensure some presence in the legislature and manage to dip a finger or two in the pie, but clearly the political empowerment of the marginalized doesn’t seem to necessarily result in the betterment of their lot.

What if all these parties suspend their electoral engagement for a while and mobilize not only their respective constituencies but also the more conscientious in the civil society?

“That perhaps is the best way out, but they are not willing lose the privileges associated with electoral engagement. They tell us that if we bow out of the arena, it could mean further humiliation and suffering for the oppressed. Tthe fact is they are reconciled to working for incremental benefits. But what to do?  We have to keep our mouths firmly shut if we are to remain the party and keep doing what little we can,” remarked bitterly a young lawyer associated with the CPM.

It was not clear whether he was aware of the cruel irony of his own position -  those who accuse their leaders of opportunism have themselves compromised to remain politically relevant. 

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