A. Baskar was a conductor with a State-owned transport corporation in Tambaram. C. Murugan was running a restaurant till six months ago and D. Baskar was eking out a living as a coolie. On Friday night, all three in their 40s, were electrocuted while erecting a flag post for their party, the DMK.
“He was well settled. Besides his monthly salary, he used to get a good amount as rent. But he got up in the midnight when he received a call from party comrades,” said R. Suresh, the brother-in-law of A. Baskar.
Baskar was part of the team that erected a party post and a plaque near the bus stand in Molachur near Sunguvarchathiram in Kancheepuram district on the occasion of the birthday of DMK president M. Karunanidhi.
DMK treasurer M.K. Stalin visited the families of the deceased and gave them Rs. 1 lakh each and also promised further help.
While their death had left their families in a state of shock, the family members had no complaints about their doing party work as they, too, are committed party members.
“My sister is the ward member of the village panchayat. We are all members of the party. ,” said Mr. Suresh, also a DMK member.
In the case of Murugan, secretary of the local DMK unit, his mother, wife and two brothers are party cadre.
“He would mobilise people whenever there was a public meeting or rally. My mother and grandmother also would accompany him,” said M Sindhu, Murugan’s daughter.
D. Baskar’s family members are also DMK supporters and today, he has left behind five children—two daughters and three sons.
At a time when politics is a rich man’s business and is rarely within the reach of common man, parties do manage to attract ordinary people to the role of grassroots workers either by ideology or the charisma of their leaders. These workers often expect little in return for their loyalty.
“They may not expect anything from the party. But we cannot afford to be indifferent. The party sent Rs 250 to every family [of party loyalists] whose breadwinners languished in prison during the emergency days,” said DMK MP T.K.S. Elangovan.
DMK president M. Karunanidhi had deposited Rs 4 crore and the interest from the amount goes to indigent partymen on a regular basis. Till September 2012, the party has distributed over Rs 2.5 crore as aid.
M.S.S. Pandian, Professor in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, said Dravidian politics was conceptualised in terms of family terrain and mutual help is central to this political mobilisation.
“Anna addressed his partymen as ‘Thambi’ (younger brother) and Karunanidhi calls them ‘udanpirappey’ (siblings). They see the party as a family,” he said.
Not just the DMK. Every political party in Tamil Nadu extends financial assistance immediately to families of partymen who die while during party work. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and AIADMK general secretary regularly releases solatium to the families of partymen and on the occasion of May Day, she distributes assistance to workers who are members of the party’s trade union wing.
The Communist parties also step in to help the party workers. “We collect family funds when a full time worker dies. When CPI (M) councillor P. Leelavathy was murdered in the late 1990s, we created a fund for her family. We gave funds to V.P. Chinthan’s family. But families of leaders who are economically self-sufficient have refused to accept,” said CPI (M) state secretary G. Ramakrishnan.