Thirumavalavan has emerged as a credible Dalit leader, and his possible battle against Jayalalithaa can be electrifying.

The Rise of Thiruma Politics of the Dalit leader who could take on Jayalalithaa in RK Nagar
news TN 2016 Saturday, April 16, 2016 - 16:47

Dalit leader Thol Thirumavalavan’s political career has indeed been fascinating – one can’t say heartening though, as his leadership has not exactly made much of a difference to the Dalit masses in general.

From being a leader of an obscure activist group only a couple of decades ago, Thirumavalavan has become a key political player. That is certainly a remarkable transformation. A large sub-section among Dalits, especially Paryars, found in considerable concentrations right through the state, is said to be fiercely loyal to him.  He is their icon.

Never mind the other Dalit sects like Pallars or Arundhadhiyars who look askance at him, not to mention the hostility of the intermediate castes, his stocks are still high, in a manner of speaking.

Now speculation is rife that he could throw down the gauntlet at none other than Chief Minister Jayalalithaa herself in the R.K.Nagar constituency in the state capital.

Thirumavalavan’s close confidant and a leading Dalit intellectual, D Ravikumar, seems to be hinting at such a possibility in a Facebook post today.  His candidature would electrify the campaign, and Amma might have some uncomfortable moments, though she is expected to cruise through with a handsome margin, whoever is pitted against her.

But Thirumavalavan, a Dalit against the Brahmin Jayalalithaa, heading a supposed offshoot of the anti-Brahmin movement of yesteryears, and right in the state capital itself, should be a striking sight. Even if he knows he would end up losing, the Dalit leader could revel in the limelight.

He is nothing if not media savvy, unlike the other Dalit leader, Dr Krishnasamy of the Pallar community. He has also effectively leveraged his caste following.

Even when he was in state government service, Thirumavalavan used to attract a lot of attention among the Dalits with his powerful oratory.  He was quite inflammatory even then, and cases have been booked against him.

The Dalit Panthers of India based in Madurai, formed on the lines of the Mumbai outfit and with which Thiruma was associated, was essentially a pressure group. It became a political party in 1999, under some strange circumstances.

Krishnasamy’s Pallar outfit Pudhiya Thamizhagam (PT) had made a dramatic debut a year earlier, causing the defeat of the DMK-TMC combine in  a few Lok Sabha  constituencies in the southern districts.

G Karuppiah Moopanar of the Tamil Maanila Congress, having parted company with the DMK and desperate to remain politically relevant, sought to put together an alliance of smaller players.

Apart from the PT, if the DPI could also be won over, and with the strength of the TMC, the combine could make some impact, he calculated and went on to prevail upon the DPI to become a political party, and thus the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) came into being.

This commentator had visited an election office of Thirumavalavan then and was stunned by the teeming youth population and their exuberance.

The Moopanar front came a cropper all right, failing to win a single seat anywhere, but Thirumavalavan had made his mark, polling over two lakh votes.  He has not looked back since, while the Pallar leader Krishnasamy has been sliding relentlessly, clutching at straws and thanking his stars when winning a seat or two, or even for being accommodated in some front or other.

Thirumavalavan too has been  switching alliances, even joining hands with the BJP back in 2001, himself elected to the Lok Sabha once and his party winning a couple of seats to the Assembly now and then. But his stature has grown far beyond his electoral fortunes.

Of course neither of the two major Dravidian parties, the DMK or the AIADMK, would have anything to do with the VCK over fears of alienating the support of the OBCs. That could have goaded Thirumavalavan to go in for a third front now.

The point is the other constituents of the new front on the block, the DMDK, the TMC, the MDMK and the left parties treat him with respect, even while keeping away from the Pallar party of PT.

One reason is Thirumavalavan has much less airs about him than Krishnasamy,  apart from the fact the his subcaste votes are distributed all over the state, as mentioned earlier. Also he is more accommodative towards the much ignored and trampled upon Arundhadiyar sect.

Interestingly he has sought to position himself as a passionate supporter of the LTTE and its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, perhaps hoping to bring down the tension between the Dalits and the OBCs in the vanguard of Tamil nationalism. The tension didn’t exactly dissipate, but Thirumavalavan’s acceptability did grow considerably.

Since the Mukkulathors (prominent OBCs of the central and southern districts of the state) form the fulcrum of her base, Jayalalithaa might never warm up to Thirumavalavan, but the DMK has been favourably disposed, though keeping him out of its front at the moment.  At some point in the future, the alliance could be renewed.

Let it also be stressed here that much more than Krishnasamy, Thiruma has been doing his bit to bring about rapprochement with the OBCs, particularly the Vanniyars.

If Krishnasamy has been accommodated in the DMK front now,  that is because he has moderated his position a lot and is taking all care not to be seen as a threat to the Mukkulathors, with whom actually the Pallars have been locking horns for long. But he has done precious little to improve the caste relationships at the ground level.

On the other hand Thirumavalavan took an enthusiastic part in PMK leader Ramadoss’s initial efforts to cobble up a rainbow coalition, perhaps assuming the Dalit-Vanniyar harmony could be the harbinger of a cosy interaction across the state.

But it was not to be, and Ramadoss went back on his previous promises when his political fortunes began to flag. The mayhem in Dharmapuri a few years ago showed that he was willing to go to any extent to consolidate his base. So then the alliance unraveled, and Thiruma had a lot of eggs on his face.

Indeed it could be argued justly that in proportions to his rise in prominence, Thirumavalavan began to go soft on Dalit issues, not wanting to antagonize his newfound allies. There has been no major campaign against any injustice done to his community.

For a little time after the Dharmapuri incidents, he again ratcheted up his rhetoric, but now as a responsible member of the third front, he avoids verbal fireworks.

It should also be noted that in the last ten years or so, he has encouraged muscle power, which helps his loyalists enrich themselves. And such is the prosperity of the VCK, a TV channel has been launched with their backing.

It might be surprising for many  to be told that when he was signed up for a Tamil film, Anbu Thozhi  (Dear Friend)  in mid-2000, casting him like a Tiger rebel and yet another producer also evinced interest, Thirumavalavan grandly announced he might turn his attention more to films from then on.

Mercifully the first film flopped, and the second never took off, and so he had to return to his familiar terrain of politics.

So where does it all leave us?  I would venture to say even after accounting for all his negative traits, Thirumavalavan emerges a credible Dalit leader. He has it in him to go forward, which could benefit the Dalits in general – the process though could be much slower than one would like it to be. 

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