‘A friend of Dal­its’: Thiru­mavala­van

FrontLine - - EDITOR’S NOTE -

I HAD a strong emo­tional con­nect with Kalaig­nar from the day the Vidutha­lai Chiruthai­gal Katchi (VCK, the party he founded) de­cided to plunge into main­stream pol­i­tics. The party, be­ing iden­ti­fied with Dal­its, faced stiff re­sis­tance from casteist el­e­ments.

So the recog­ni­tion it got from a party like the DMK was an achieve­ment for us.

Tamil Maanila Congress leader G.K. Moopa­nar broke the ta­boo of po­lit­i­cal un­touch­a­bil­ity by al­ly­ing with us in the 1999 Lok Sabha elec­tion. But it was Kalaig­nar who gave us that big break in main­stream pol­i­tics. He took us along with the Puthiya Thamizhagam (P.T.) and al­lot­ted 10 seats to each party in the 2001 Assem­bly elec­tion. Even se­nior lead­ers within his party, such as ‘Murosoli’ Maran, op­posed it. But he stood firm.

At a pub­lic meet­ing in Madu­rai, where he shared the dais with al­liance part­ners, I spoke on the need for so­cial jus­tice and de­tailed Kalaig­nar’s com­mit­ment to that cause. Later, re­act­ing to it, he said that at the age of 80, he felt so happy that young broth­ers had taken on the re­spon­si­bil­ity of keep­ing alive the agenda of so­cial jus­tice, which was what Peri­yar wanted. Such words of en­cour­age­ment from a tow­er­ing per­son­al­ity like Kalaig­nar in­creases one’s con­fi­dence level in pub­lic life where the lead­ers of dis­ad­van­taged groups get bul­lied and dis­cour­aged.

He used to guide me when­ever I felt de­jected at the dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices in pub­lic life. A fledg­ling po­lit­i­cal out­fit like the VCK has to fight hard to gain space in main­stream pol­i­tics. Kalaig­nar helped us in that fight. Even when there was great an­i­mos­ity against us within the DMK dur­ing elec­tion time over al­liance for­ma­tion, and so on, he never vac­il­lated from his so­cial com­mit­ment.

The loss of the DMK in the 2001 elec­tions was at­trib­uted to the al­liance with par­ties such as the VCK. Even a Tamil weekly mag­a­zine wrote about it. When I drew his at­ten­tion to the ac­cu­sa­tions, he just smiled. “If so, how could our al­liance win five seats [one of which was mine] out of nine in Cud­dalore district? How could they blame you?” he asked. I had no an­swer.

From 2004 our bond re­mained strong and went be­yond pol­i­tics. On one oc­ca­sion, dur­ing the 2004 Lok Sabha elec­tion, I had a dif­fer­ence of opin­ion with him when he did not al­lot the Chi­dambaram seat to the VCK. I felt an­guished and re­signed my Assem­bly seat, which I won in 2001 on the DMK sym­bol. It wounded him a lot. He later shared his pain with our gen­eral sec­re­tary, Raviku­mar. Then we joined the AIADMK al­liance for the 2006 Assem­bly elec­tion. It lasted for a short pe­riod only. In the sub­se­quent lo­cal body elec­tions, we re­turned to the DMK front.

When I told him that lo­cal body elec­tions could not be con­ducted in Pap­pa­p­atti and Keeri­patti re­served vil­lage pan­chay­ats in Madu­rai district for nearly a decade be­cause of caste dis­crim­i­na­tion, he, as Chief Min­is­ter, was shocked. He saw to it that elec­tions were con­ducted in the two pan­chay­ats by is­su­ing a spe­cial no­ti­fi­ca­tion ex­tend­ing the 10-year ro­ta­tional sys­tem of reser­va­tion for another term. He asked me to field can­di­dates in the two vil­lages. Af­ter a bit­ter bat­tle, Dalit pres­i­dents won and as­sumed power, a his­toric oc­ca­sion for the so­cial jus­tice move­ment. But for him it would not have hap­pened. The VCK con­ferred the “Sa­math­uva Peri­yar Kalaig­nar” ti­tle on Karunanidhi.

He was al­most in tears when I met him on the day of the Mul­li­vaikkal mas­sacre in Sri Lanka, in which bat­tle the LTTE lost and Tamils were mas­sa­cred by the army. The 2009 Lok Sabha elec­tion was on at that time. The DMK al­liance, in which the VCK was a part­ner, faced em­bar­rass­ing mo­ments. We were given two seats. I told him that we were deeply an­guished by the de­vel­op­ments and were not in a mood to con­test. We would with­draw, I told him.

He looked at me for a few sec­onds and said that Prabakaran and the LTTE were known for their valour, which Ra­jiv Gandhi him­self had ex­tolled. “Do you think that Prabakaran would not know that the war could not be won? He never with­drew from the bat­tle field. That was his courage, for which he would be re­mem­bered for­ever, and not for vic­tory or de­feat,” he said. He told me: “Win the elec­tions and go to Par­lia­ment where you can share your an­guish and anger.”

To those crit­ics who hated our pres­ence in the al­liance, he would say that the al­liance with the VCK was based on so­cial jus­tice. “It is a prin­ci­pled al­liance and will re­main for­ever,” he would ex­plain. On our re­quest he na­tion­alised Perun­chithra­nar’s works, which ben­e­fited the poet’s fam­ily. We pre­sented him the Ambed­kar Su­dar award, which he cher­ished.

(As told to Ilan­go­van Ra­jasekaran) Thol. Thiru­mavala­van is the pres­i­dent of the VCK.

KARUNANIDHI with Thol. Thiru­mavala­van on the 50th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion of the VCK leader in 2013.

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