Social Justice Claims Of Dravidian Parties: Much Ado About Nothing Much 

by Kalyan Raman - May 2, 2016 06:38 PM +05:30 IST
Social Justice Claims Of Dravidian Parties: Much Ado About Nothing Much Tamil Nadu DMK (DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Snapshot
    • Both DMK and AIADMK have captured power with substantial support from the Scheduled Castes & Schedule Tribes (SC/ST) but share in the State power is never accorded to all.
    • The poor and socially disadvantaged sections from the BC/MBC who are numerical minorities are unable to overcome the dominance of those castes who have the numbers in their favour.

Translated from Tamil by Anbudan Bala

Among the many acts of commission and omission over which the two major Dravidian parties are facing serious criticism, none is graver than the allegation that they have promoted the development and entrenchment of a caste oligarchy which has captured State power and is cornering disproportionate share of the “benefits.” This effectively gives the lie to the “social justice” ideology that the Dravidian movement has professed since its very inception.

Predictably a host of apologists have jumped into the fray, claiming that both parties are indeed democratic and have transcended caste divisions within the Tamil society. Their argument runs like this: Electoral victory of any political party is dependent on the broad-based support it gets, cutting across caste divisions. The vote bank from any single caste will not have the numerical strength to deliver victory at the hustings to a political party. So, in essence, the two major Dravidian majors have always captured power by garnering broad public support transcending caste divisions. Hence, the notion that any elected government in Tamil Nadu runs on the combined power of certain dominant Hindu castes is a myth and the product of a confused mind!

Let us examine the above argument in detail.

Of course, at the level of an Assembly constituency and the State Assembly itself, it is true that without the support of people from diverse caste groups, it would be impossible to win a seat in the Assembly or secure enough seats to form the government. It can’t be otherwise in an electoral democracy built on the concept of universal adult franchise.

For instance, both DMK and AIADMK have always captured power with substantial support of people belonging to Scheduled Castes & Schedule Tribes (SC/ST) who constitute 20% of the population of Tamil Nadu. But the glaring truth is that benefits from government schemes or share in State power are never accorded uniformly to all those who extend their electoral support.

In any Assembly in Tamil Nadu, there is bound to be a sizable number of SC/ST representatives belonging to the ruling party (be it DMK or ADMK), elected from the reserved constituencies. But such MLAs rarely get their due in terms of posts or power in the government. Hence, the notion that electoral support secured from diverse castes helps to mitigate caste discrimination or hinder the capture of State power by an oligarchy of dominant caste groups, is simply not true.

If this is what happens to the SC/ST communities in power sharing, what about those backward and most backward caste communities (BCs and MBCs) who are numerical minorities as compared to the dominant BC castes. Where they enjoy numerical strength locally, they are likely to get leadership posts at the panchayat level, or the ward councillor posts in municipalities, along with the associated “benefits.” Anything more than such slim pickings would be impossible. In this context, the numerical strength at the Assembly constituency level (say, 30% or more) immensely helps the Kongu Vellala Gounders, Mukkulathors (Thevars), Nadars and Vanniyars to gain clout in the electoral field, paving the way “naturally” for their political and social dominance.

Economic power and social influence obtained using political power in the initial years of Dravidian parties’ rule also ensure their entrenched dominance at all levels of governance. Evidence of this oligarchic power of the above dominant caste groups in Tamil Nadu can clearly be seen in the caste-wise distribution of MLAs and ministers in the state government. Their dominance is visible in sectors favoured with governmental support such as private education empires and liquor manufacturing licences; we can discern such caste-based dominance even in the media.

Proper review of the outcomes of reservation policy (for seats in education and government jobs) in the state and revision of various category lists have been stonewalled despite a Supreme Court directive to that effect, largely to protect the continued flow of benefits to caste groups. This has happened in spite of the fact that the First Backward Classes Commission in the State, set up in 1970, identified these castes as receiving reservation benefit far in excess of their share in the population, indicating a position of social advantage.

To deal with the clamour and protests of the deprived groups who were really in need of affirmative action, successive TN governments kept increasing the quota percentages but did nothing to mitigate or reverse the cornering of the benefits by a few groups. The Vanniyars, however, were numerically strong enough to launch an agitation and claim their share, but not before several years of violent protests and civil unrest.

The poor and socially disadvantaged sections from the BC/MBC who are numerical minorities are unable to overcome the dominance of those castes with the numbers in their favour. This continued political dominance of a few castes is the reason for the open neglect, oppression and unhesitant discrimination of the scheduled castes who have very little representation at the political level and also lack numerical strength at the level of each constituency.

This unchecked pursuit of power and pelf by a few entrenched caste groups and the need to “appease” the largesse with crumbs from the pie has converted Tamil Nadu’s government machinery into a predatory extractive machine that collects “rent” from everyone at every opportunity.

That the leadership of both Dravidian majors come from castes of low numerical strength does not necessarily indicate the prevalence of caste pluralism in either party. Leaders are drawn from numerical minority castes with the specific purpose of keeping the numerically strong, dominant castes united and preventing them from competing directly with one another in the electoral arena and in the government. It is quite amazing that the apologists do not know this.

The Tamil version of this article can be read at ammu.blogspot.in

Kalyan Raman is a writer and translator and tweets at https://twitter.com/kalyanasc

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