I won't quit even under pressure, asserts winner

MADURAI OCT. 10. K. Azhagar, a farm worker, backed by the majority caste Hindus, has emerged successful in Thursday's byelection for panchayat president, reserved for Dalits, at Pappapatti in this district.

It was a walkover for Mr. Azhagar, who defeated his rival, K. Muthan, by 876 votes. He got 923 votes, while Mr. Muthan could secure only 47 of the 977 votes polled. Seven votes were declared invalid.

With police pickets posted at some places at Pappapatti and Karayampatti, a predominantly Dalit hamlet, apart from plainclothesmen providing ``shadow security'' to the victor and the vanquished, there was not even a semblance of jubilation anywhere in the panchayat.

The people at and around Pappapatti are not at all surprised at the outcome in view of the panchayat's track record. In fact, it is more or less a re-run of the April 2002 bypoll.

Then Thanikodi, who was supported by the caste Hindu Piramalai Kallars, garnered 907 of the total of 917 votes, while only three were cast in favour of the DPI-sponsored Subban.

Incidentally, both Mr. Subban and Mr. Muthan were Karayampatti residents.

Mr. Thanikodi resigned two days after assuming charge, allegedly under pressure from the caste Hindus who, like their counterparts at Nattarmangalam, Keeripatti (both in Madurai district) and Kottakatchiyendal (Virudhunagar), had for the past seven years been demanding that the panchayat be de-reserved.

With the DPI and others Dalit groups deciding against entering the fray in the subsequent by-elections, the nominees of the caste Hindus were asked to quit after winning the post.

Though rumours were doing the rounds that Mr. Azhagar might quit shortly after assuming office on October 20, he said the caste Hindus would not ask him to resign.

``I will not quit, even if they force me to do so. The villagers stand united. They will cooperate with me in serving the people. This is evident from the overwhelming support extended by them in the bypoll,'' he told The Hindu shortly after he came to know of the result.

Enhancing infrastructure in the backward area and creating job opportunities for Dalit farmhands were on his agenda.

But Mr. Muthan was sceptical of Mr. Azhagar's claim.

The pressure allegedly mounted by the caste Hindus on Mr. Azhagar became clear from his `power agent', and not Mr. Azhagar himself, going to the Chellampatti panchayat union to going to receive the election declaration certificate, said Mr. Mr. Muthan.

Mr. Muthan also alleged that the Dalits of Karayampatti could not freely exercise their franchise for lack of a polling booth in the hamlet, which was 2 km away from Pappapatti. Fearing ``caste-Hindu reprisal'', most of the Dalits stayed away from the polling stations.

``We are down but not out. Though we have lost the battle, we will continue to give a stiff fight the to caste Hindus, who want to scuttle the Government's move to conduct elections to the panchayat,'' said P. Narasingham, who proposed Mr. Muthan's candidature.