Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu Assembly elections | Didn’t want to break the alliance over a few seats: Thirumavalavan

Thol. Thirumavalavan   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

VCK founder Thol. Thirumavalavan has been at the forefront of organising several protests against various issues of relevance to this State – NEET, CAA-NRC-NPR, Farm Laws, Manusmriti – and in shaping Tamil Nadu's ideological opposition to the BJP and ruling AIADMK in the last five years. A few days ago, Mr. Thirumavalavan formally committed to stay in the secular progressive alliance led by the DMK and was allotted six Assembly constituencies. While his party cadre has expressed displeasure at DMK’s decision to allot just half the number of seats originally sought by VCK, Mr. Thirumavalavan told The Hindu that it was crucial to keep the alliance intact and be a part of the winning alliance. Excerpts from the interview:

The VCK has played a strong role in shaping the ideological opposition to the BJP-AIADMK in the State. Yet, DMK has allotted only 6 assembly seats. Are you happy with this?

I am happy that the alliance is intact. For five years, we created an impression among the people that this is not an alliance just for the elections but also built on an ideological platform. After the 2016 State Assembly elections, we have protested together on many issues - NEET, Hydrocarbon, Environmental issues, for Federal rights, Eelam Tamils, Manusmriti and Farm Laws. I didn't want to break the alliance over the matter of a few seats as it would have rendered meaningless all the efforts we had taken over the last five years.

There is a view that seats allotted to your party is not commensurate to the efforts that you have put in the last five years to build a narrative against AIADMK and the BJP…

There is no need for the DMK, with whom we have an electoral alliance, to honour the work that we have done in the interest of the welfare of the people. The right honour would be to gain respect from the people for our work. The DMK’s logic was that they don’t want their next government to be a minority government and that it shouldn't be subjected to harassment from the BJP. We see logic in their argument. While they have to accommodate the alliance partners, they must also win enough seats, not only to form the government, but also have the strength to safeguard it. They have decided to contest in 180 seats and this is where I got convinced by their logic. Also, this is also a winning alliance - AIADMK faces 10 years of anti-incumbency and are also facing aversion due to their alliance with BJP. There is a difference between contesting 12 seats in a losing alliance and 6 seats in a winning alliance.

Though the PMK and VCK are perceived as representatives of two major communities in Tamil Nadu, many of your critics have said that while the PMK sealed the alliance with AIADMK only after they passed a law that guaranteeing internal reservations for Vanniyars within the MBC quota, the VCK plays only a marginal role when it comes to electoral politics. Why?

There is no need to compare the two parties - the PMK and VCK. The PMK has been openly pursuing caste-oriented politics in a focussed way. If there is a vacancy for a judge in the High Court or the Supreme Court, they say why a Vanniyar can’t be made a judge. Their politics is centred on a single caste. This is more about using caste for electoral politics, than ensuring the welfare of the people they represent. According to them, the Vanniyar population is 20%. But, I think they have not managed to go beyond 6%, in terms of vote share. So, 14-16% of the Vanniyar population are voting for other parties.

Since 2009, the party has been facing a decline. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, they lost all 7 seats. In the 2011 State Assembly elections, they contested in 30 seats as a part of DMK alliance and won only 3. After 2011, they pursued caste politics explicitly – spoke about caste honour and against love marriages – and consolidated their caste. In 2016, they projected a candidate (Anbumani Ramadoss) as Chief Ministerial candidate with the slogan ‘Maatram, Munnetram’, but couldn’t win any seat.

The 10.5% internal reservations have been fixed based on the 1931 census. What is the Vanniyar population after 90 years today? What is this reservation based on? What are the findings of the Kulasekaran Committee set up in this regard? This is a well-planned, orchestrated move by AIADMK and PMK. The MBC has been split into three groups without their consent – this is BJP’s agenda to split the unity of the MBCs and establish divisions. They don’t want the communities under Scheduled Castes and OBCs to mobilise as one community. Dr. Ramadoss’ demand has helped the BJP in their agenda. Now, Mukkulathor, Yadava and other communities are protesting against it. The Isai Vellalar Peravai Sangam has already filed a case against this move. While everyone deserves social justice, it shouldn’t result in creating (more) divisions in the society.

VCK has previously demanded that reservations for SCs should be increased to 21% from 18%. Did you place any demand to the DMK before finalising the electoral alliance?

We have not placed any such demands like Dr. Ramadoss. We cannot make such demands to an Opposition party. If the alliance wins, we will demand that a caste population census be carried and ensure that reservations are recalibrated accordingly.

The DMK and the Congress are struggling to conclude their seat-sharing talks. It has been said that the Congress has been significantly weakened in India and Tamil Nadu. What should the Congress strategy be now, according to you?

The Congress should strongly oppose BJP ideologically. They have a leadership crisis and they are unable to expose the BJP and its policies to the ordinary people of India. They feel that if they oppose BJP and its policies, they will be portrayed as opposing the Hindus and Hinduism. They feel that they will lose the Hindu vote and are reluctant to do it. They feel that if they are anti-Hindutva, it wouldn’t be understood as anti-BJP, but instead, as if they are anti-Hindus. They are confused. And this is the case with other parties as well.

BJP is continuing to show that they are protectors of Hindus in India. The Congress is losing to them. Even though they are secular, the only way they can establish their secularism is by vehemently opposing the BJP and RSS ideologically. They can expose how they are pro-capitalist, anti-social justice, anti-workers, anti-federal and anti-farmers. They are not doing it properly. Their protests and criticisms are mainly defensive.

A long standing criticism against mainstream parties such as DMK, AIADMK, Congress and BJP is that dalit candidates are confined only to reserved constituencies. Will VCK field Dalit candidates in general constituencies. If so, in how many?

We have asked for 1 or 2 general constituencies out of the 6 seats allotted to us. We don’t have enough seats to field Dalit candidates. In this election, we will not do it. We will only field non-Dalits in general constituencies.

What do you think is the future of the third front in Tamil Nadu, which is now being led by Kamal Haasan? He has also criticised the DMK for allotting just 6 seats to VCK and said ‘My younger brother Thirumavalavan should be here’.

If the third front is formed just before the elections, it will not receive support from the people. A front has to emerge and it should contest two or three elections continuously. Only such a third front will have the support of the people. If political parties come together just before the elections and claim that they are the alternative, people don’t accept it.

Secondly, any election becomes a bipolar contest, here. If there is AIADMK, the ones opposing it, the DMK, becomes the main rival. People don’t even consider the other parties as significant. The third front also invariably ends up splitting anti-incumbency votes. Despite the electorate wanting to defeat a party, they are unable to defeat them because a third front will split the votes.

Actor Kamal Haasan is facing his first assembly election (after contesting the Lok Sabha elections). Only now a third front is being formed. It is highly impossible to emerge as a credible alternative and it will only end up splitting votes. I am not stating this as a criticism but this is the reality. I can only thank Kamal Haasan, not for criticising DMK that they haven’t given us enough seats, but for taking a favourable view on VCK that we deserve more.

What are the challenges in VCK aspiring to lead an alliance despite representing such a huge population?

There are many factors – one is the financial strength to lead an alliance. We have been in politics for 20 years, but we are still a party in the throes of development. Though we have influence among the people, we do not have a proven vote bank. Our vote bank is small since we contest in a small number of seats. While we have faced a few elections and have been in politics for 20 years, we do not have the wherewithal to lead an alliance.

Some of your critics say that you perhaps lack ambition…

I have ambition, but I also need to be practical. I cannot create a false perception or give my supporters a false hope. If a Dalit or a Muslim starts a party, we are being branded as sectarian. If I want to merge into the mainstream, I have to struggle until everybody accepts me. It is not that I don’t aspire to be the Chief Minister or that the working class people do not have capacity to lead. I am not underestimating them. Political recognition is not just electoral recognition. If we win 7 assembly seats in an alliance, we will get a symbol. The actual recognition is when every (or at least substantially) section of the society accepts my leadership without marginalising me.

Your supporters say that you would be considered a serious political force if and when you consolidate the substantial Dalit vote bank?

Though the VCK is a mainstream political party, the first thing that we facilitated is Dalit consolidation. Our reach is because of that. It has taken us 20 years to reach here. It is a long struggle. It should continue after me.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 2:29:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/tamil-nadu-assembly/didnt-want-to-break-the-alliance-over-a-few-seats-thirumavalavan/article34009823.ece

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