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Looking to create a Kongu stronghold

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REACHING OUT: Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary and Coimbatore Lok Sabha constituency candidate E.R. Easwaran with Dalit voters during a campaign at Athappagoundenpudur in Coimbatore. –
REACHING OUT: Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary and Coimbatore Lok Sabha constituency candidate E.R. Easwaran with Dalit voters during a campaign at Athappagoundenpudur in Coimbatore. –

K.V. Prasad

The Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam is likely to emerge as the dark horse in this polls

“We are socially, economically and academically strong, but not politically”

COIMBATORE: While established national and regional parties fight it out in western Tamil Nadu, a new party formed by the Gounders – Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam – seeks to turn the Kongu region into its stronghold. It has fielded candidates in 12 Lok Sabha constituencies in this belt: Coimbatore, Tirupur, Pollachi, the Nilgiris, Erode, Salem, Namakkal, Karur, Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, Kallakurichi and Dindugul.

Gounders

The Gounders are spread across this region in various businesses and also as members in the Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Communist parties. But, this is the first time that they are entering the electoral fray in a major way as a single party.

Launched in February this year as Kongunadu Munnetra Peravai, the party is contesting in the name of Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam (KMK), because it has been registered thus with the Election Commission. The Kazhagam is a registered party formed some years ago by the Kongu Vellala Gounder Peravai, but not active. Owing to paucity of time now, the party will re-register itself as Kongunadu Munnetra Peravai after the election.

Caste status

From a Forward Caste, the Kongu Vellala Gounders and 14 sub-castes became Backward Caste in 1975 following a representation to the Government. The objective was proper representation in all spheres of administration. The question now is whether the party will be able to end the Gounders’ stand-off with the Dalits – the Arundhathiars – in Coimbatore.

Party president ‘Best’ S. Ramaswamy says the pressure of Dalit politics from parties such as the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi is one of the reasons for forming the party. The Gounders need to be a political force to have their voice heard. But, the development of Kongu region is the main agenda, he contends.

Money power

What makes the party stand out is its money power. Its members, including many of its office-bearers, have flourishing agriculture, textile and engineering businesses. “We are socially, economically and academically strong, but not politically,” explains Mr. Ramaswamy.

The Kazhagam president contests the view that the party belongs only to the Gounders. “It is true that the Kongu Vellala Gounder Peravai has only Gounders as members, but not the party. Anyone can join us for the development of the Kongu region (from Coimbatore to Karur),” he asserts.

To prove that it adopts an approach of inclusion, the party has nominated for the Nilgiris seat a member of the Arundhathiar community with which it had a long-standing strife. Describing this as a social alliance, the party’s Coimbatore constituency candidate E.R. Easwaran says this is to prove that the party is not casteist.

Tokenism?

Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi district secretary Susi Kalairasan dismisses this as tokenism and not a genuine inclusive approach.

At Athappagoundenpudur near the city, Mr. Easwaran reaches out to the Arundhathiars who watch his campaign from a distance. “If we are united, no political party will attempt to create strife between us,” he tells them after walking into their midst to seek votes. “The Gounders have formed this party only take repression (on Arundhathiars) to a greater level,” says Sulur Union secretary of the VCK M. Natarajan, who resides in this area.

That the party relies heavily on the closely-knit community of Gounders is evident from Mr. Ramaswamy’s claim that 40 per cent of Coimbatore’s 29-lakh population consists of members of this caste. He says 50 per cent of the 22-lakh population in Erode are Gounders and 45 per cent of 19 lakh in Tirupur.

Suspicion

On the Dalits viewing the Gounders with suspicion, including the formation of the party, Mr. Ramaswamy says: “I agree that the Dalits have to come up socially and economically. But, they must understand that we are not the cause for their backwardness. We are not opposed to any economic assistance to them.”

Former Union Minister and Congress candidate from Coimbatore R. Prabhu says: “The formation of a party on caste lines is very dangerous for democracy. People will be divided on caste lines.”

The KMK wants changes to the way the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 are used. Referring to the number of “false” and non-bailable cases registered against Gounders on charges of abusing Dalits, Mr. Ramaswamy says his party is not asking for the abolition of the Acts, but bail should be granted. This marks a change from the campaign for abolition earlier.

False cases

On false cases, Mr. Kalaiarasan alleges that enmity between two Gounder families had also led to one using Dalit workers on its farms to lodge complaints against the other.

Mr. Ramaswamy and Mr. Easwaran believe that the party will make a dent on the vote banks of the other parties. Gounders from other parties are already joining the KMK, they claim.

Members in the DMK and the AIADMK reject this claim by pointing out that there are Ministers and top office-bearers from this community in both the parties who go by only ideology and not caste.

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