Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker P Dhanapal has been a member of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) ever since it was founded in 1971. He had successfully contested as the party’s nominee from the Sankari constituency in Salem District in 1977, 1980 and 1984.
In 1989, when the AIADMK split between the late J Jayalalithaa and party founder M G Ramachandran’s widow V R Janaki, Dhanapal was among the 33 legislators expelled by then assembly speaker P H Pandian for casting his lot with Jayalalithaa.
After going into political wilderness for sometime, Dhanapal made a comeback in 2001 winning from Sankari again. For the win, he was rewarded by being made the state food minister.
Despite his seniority and staunch loyalty, Dhanapal was not accepted as “one among us” by senior leaders of the party dominated by the Thevar and Gounder castes. Dhanapal belonged to the Arunthathiyar caste, listed among Scheduled Castes; and it was one of the reasons why he wasn’t given his due. All this continued till 2009.
Then, one fine day in 2009 the late J Jayalalithaa decided to visit Dhanapal’s home and have lunch. That was seen as a stern sign to AIADMK cadre to give him his due recognition. After this, senior party leaders began treating him with more respect, giving him due recognition.
In 2012, Jayalalithaa picked him to be the assembly speaker after D Jayakumar had to resign when posters hailing him were blazoned all over his Royapuram constituency in Chennai on the eve of his birthday. Since then, Dhanapal has become an important cog in the wheel of AIADMK.
The journey of Dhanapal was what struck one’s mind when the other day the social media began if any person of the downtrodden community could think of becoming chief minister in Tamil Nadu when Uttar Pradesh and Bihar has seen them ascend the chair.
Even in the case of Dhanapal, it is a fact that his party has not for even a moment till now has considered him as chief minister material. More importantly, in the last 51-odd years of rule by the Dravidian parties — Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and AIADMK — not a single person from the Schedule Caste (SC) or Scheduled Tribes (ST) community has been considered for even ministership of some of the ministries considered significant or important.
A Twitterati pointed out that often, AIADMK or DMK members from the SC or ST communities have been considered only for the Ministry of Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare. Dhanapal, probably, is an exception.
AIADMK’s rival DMK is no better. Hardly anyone from the SC community has been seen as a contender even for a major portfolio.
In fact, the party has never considered persons outside of one family worth being the state’s chief minister since 1969. Then, the late M Karunanidhi became the chief minister following the death of C N Annadurai due to cancer. No one from the downtrodden section has been even considered for the speaker’s post like the AIADMK.
Though Dravidian parties as well as the Dravidar Kazhagam have been claiming to be ensuring social justice and equality, the claims are far from reality. Save a handful of castes, including a couple from the Other Backward Class, no other community in Tamil Nadu has really gained or prospered over the last five decades.
The situation of the SC and ST is no better. The system of discriminating the downtrodden continues, while honour killings also take place, though most of them have gone unreported.
In fact, the state hasn’t seen any leader of the stature of late Congress leader P Kakkan or Kakkanji - as he was fondly called - to espouse the cause of the SC and ST.
Tamil Nadu is seeing a few leaders like K Krishnasamy, founder of Puthiya Tamizhagam, and Thol Thirumavalavan, founder of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Kazhagam (VCK), taking up the cause of the SC/ST communities.
Krishnasamy has triggered a hornet’s nest by demanding that the Devendra Kula Vellalar community, which he belongs to, be deleted from the list of Scheduled Castes, drawing flak from quite a few political leaders. But he is not being recognised beyond a select few communities.
Thol Thirumavalavan is seen as a leader who has a hold over a significant section of the SC/ST population but not enough to be considered chief minister material. Moreover, he is forced to settle for crumbs when it comes to seat sharing, satisfying himself of getting a dozen or two seats for his party.
People belonging to the Scheduled Castes make up 20 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s population, as per the 2011 Census. In Uttar Pradesh, Scheduled Castes make up a little over 21 per cent of the population and in Bihar, over 16 per cent. Both these states have seen Scheduled Caste leaders becoming chief ministers.
Across the country, the number of people belonging to the SC community in Tamil Nadu is the third highest after Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Despite numbers in their favour, there is still no one from the Scheduled Castes who can be termed as state chief minister material. Why is it so?
Is it because there is a lack of unity among the downtrodden people? Is it because the leaders representing them lack vision? Is it because they tend to narrow down their interests only to the community they come from? Or is it because they are content to be kingmakers?
The bottom line, however, is that despite Dravidian parties’ claims, social justice in Tamil Nadu is far from reality. Nothing can illustrate this better than the fact that Tamil Nadu has failed to produce even one leader from the SC community who can take over the reins of the state.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.