Published: 25th April 2019
Thirumavalavan, Anbumani et al: Lessons from the caste violence at Ponparappi, Ariyalur
Chief Electoral Officer has recommended a re-poll in 10 polling booths, 8 of which are in Dharmapuri constituency where the president of PMK’s youth wing Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss is defending his seat
“A just society is that society in which ascending sense of reverence and descending sense of contempt is dissolved into the creation of a compassionate society”
Annihilation of Caste by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
Violence is not an entirely new concept in Indian elections and we have always come across instances of violence, a significant portion of which has an identity connotation to it. Tamil Nadu is not an exception and the state witnessed one such unfortunate incident in Ponparappi village of Ariyalur, a district in the north-central part of the state on the 18th of April. While the 'Hows' and 'Whys' are significant, one cannot pass judgments before the law takes its course. On the basis of the information available, the perpetrators of violence were the cadres and supporters of the Pattali Makkal Katchi, (PMK) allegedly aided by the Hindu Munnani. On the other hand, the houses and property ransacked were inhabited and owned by Dalits, (who were also attacked) were perceived to be the supporters and voters of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK).
With such incidents of violence and hate, driven either by a premeditated scheme or a probabilistic cascade of events, they present an opportune moment for the concerned leaders to devise a counter. Such a counter would either spiral out or would lead to a simmer that would polarize not just the concerned but also the larger populace. The knee-jerk reaction to such incidents would usually involve imposing an act committed by a few on to the entire community. It is here; we observe the composed and articulate response from Thirumavalavan, the chief of VCK, as a benchmark response, especially when confronted by hate.
The parliamentary elections of 2019 have concluded in Tamil Nadu, with the Vellore constituency’s election being postponed. Further, the Chief Electoral Officer has recommended a re-poll in 10 polling booths, 8 of which are in Dharmapuri constituency where the president of PMK’s youth wing Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss is defending his seat. A statement he made on the 5th of April, in a campaign meet in Thiruporur, is worth noting in this regard, “What will happen in Polling booth; we will only be in the booth; then what... Should I say it openly? Have you understood?” This is in consonance with the statement by the party chief, Dr. S Ramadoss, who said that if 10 lion cubs guarded a booth, nobody would dare to vote against PMK and its allies.
On the other hand, in an interview after the violence, Thirumavalavan opined that the ransacking on the day of election was intended to silence the minority in the village of Ponparappi. The clarity in communication comes to the fore, when he clearly delineates the errant PMK cadres from the larger Vanniyar community, by stating, “I do not say that the Vanniyars are against me” and further remarked, “I deem it my political duty to liberate the Vanniyars from the clutches of the PMK and Dr. Ramadoss, because he has poisoned even the children of the community".
One can argue that the statement reveals his objective to create a broad-based political platform to include Dalits (and their demands) in mainstream Tamil politics while negotiating with the broader society including Vanniyars, that would involve carrying forward the negotiations on the ground to reverse the sharp Vanniyar – Dalit polarization in northern Tamil Nadu. Moreover, Thirumavalavan’s carefulness in separating the larger Vanniyar community from the PMK resonates in the voting patterns in the districts with significant Vanniyar population i.e., Vanniyar dominant districts are not PMK bastions per se.
Further, this is not a one-off instance or a sudden change of heart for Thirumavalavan, but this has been his way of politics. In a speech in December 2018, at a time when a Dalit youngster was accused of stabbing a non-Dalit girl, he was quick to sharply condemn the act and went on to talk about his belief in fostering a socially inclusive society.
The politics of coming together in the face of sharp polarization runs the risk of being overwhelmed by increasing distrust and enmity due to the rhetoric of "us vs. them." This irreversibly damages the emergence of a platform for negotiation, where illiberal tendencies and authoritarian tactics are neutralized. Under these circumstances, articulation of one’s stand, which is inherently accommodating and empathetic of the other, is a shining gleam of hope.
Vignesh is a doctoral student at the King’s India Institute, King’s College London. He tweets @krvtweets
Jeyannathann is a biochemical engineer with an interest in politics. He tweets @Jeyanbiomimic