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Being Dravidian: ‘The institutionalisation of caste in Tamil Nadu politics was solely due to DMK chief Karunanidhi’

Tho Paramasivan, better known as Tho Pa, smiles his withering smile despite the niggling pain of an amputated foot. The 65-year-old writer, retired Professor of Tamil at Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, researcher of temples for three decades and a staunch Periyarist, is affable and concise. Conversational chitchat, like his home in Palayamkottai, Tirunelveli, is sparse. His only God, he says, are the writings and teachings of the founder of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu, Periyar EV Ramasamy Naicker, whose picture is hung up on the wall.

“Karunanidhi (chief of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or DMK) is wholly responsible for caste issues in this state,” begins Tho Pa, mincing no words. “Periyar was against caste. The Dravidian movement was against caste. Anna (former Chief Minister Annadurai) compromised the Dravidian movement when he said – “ondrey kulam, oruvaney devan” (One humanity, one God). Karunanidhi diluted it further and turned it entirely into votebank politics,” he said.

Paramasivan refers to events that took place in the 1990s to prove his point. Renaming of districts in the state were on in full swing during the DMK regime with Karunanidhi as Chief Minister. Names for districts were those of prominent leaders belonging to different castes. Madurai, for instance, was named Pasumpon Thevar Thirumaganar district (referring to a prominent leader Muthuramalinga Thevar belonging to the Thevar caste belonging to the Backward Classes).

Villupuram district was called Villupuram Ramasamy Padayachiyar district, after another powerful leader of the Vanniyar (Most Backward Caste) caste. Many other districts had similar nomenclature. In 1997, caste riots broke out in southern Tamil Nadu when the State Transport Corporation in Virudhunagar was renamed as Veeran Sundaralingam Transport Corporation after a prominent Dalit leader. Thevars, an ‘upper caste’ refused to get into these buses named after a ‘lower caste’ leader. The state government led by Chief Minister Karunanidhi went into a huddle and hastily decided that names of caste leaders would not adorn districts or transport corporations.

. Firstpost/Sandhya Ravishankar

Tho Paramasivan. Firstpost/Sandhya Ravishankar

“Periyar is still relevant,” explained Paramasivan. “The Dravidian parties have diluted the movement. Absolute power corrupts absolutely – that is the Dravidian movement. It is a sad history. But no movement can die. It will change its form, new parties will come. It will morph and stay relevant to the times,” he said.

Paramasivan scoffs at Karunanidhi’s son and DMK heir apparent MK Stalin visiting the Thirukoshtiyur Ramanujar temple last month and at Karunanidhi himself penning the script for a biopic on the Hindu saint which is being aired on the DMK mouthpiece Kalaignar TV. “In the 1950s, (Tamil film actor) Sivaji Ganesan joined the DMK,” reminisced Paramasivan. “He went to the Tirupati Balaji temple before the release of some film of his. DMK men stuck posters all over the state calling him ‘Tirupati Ganesha’, mocking him. Karunanidhi and Stalin have forgotten all of that. All of this scriptwriting and visiting temples is only for votebank politics,” he said.

Paramasivan says that caste is here to say, considering how deeply institutionalised it has become in mainstream state politics. “Destroying caste is not an easy thing,” he argued. “Caste is as real as it is cruel. We can only dilute it. That is why Periyar believed in inter-caste marriages,” he said.

Periyar and the Dravidian movement have come under severe criticism from Dalit thinkers for being a movement that uprooted the Brahmin and installed the OBCs (Other Backward Castes) in its place, leaving the Dalits still outside of the system. Paramasivan, the Periyarist, defends his ideology. “The OBC took maximum advantage of Periyar’s Dravidian movement,” he argued. “It is an objective ideology and it was used more by the intermediary castes. This is unavoidable in such caste hierarchy,” he said.

Paramasivan also feels that there is a vacuum in political leadership for the Dalits in Tamil Nadu. “There is no good leadership for Dalits,” he said. “Dalit writers are sowing the seeds of hatred amongst people. Hatred is more powerful, it catches fire instantly. When hatred is sown, there is a sense of revenge amongst the community. Dalits are opposing non-Dalits, many times, for no reason,” he added.

“There will be lots of violence,” said Paramasivan on the issue of whether caste would be history in a few generations. “There will be at least another 50 years of bloodshed before caste dissolves. Caste will go only after unprecedented bloodshed, which we are yet to witness. It will come,” he warned.

The morphing of the Dravidian movement and caste intolerance in Tamil Nadu are interlinked, according to Paramasivan. He believes though that the movement itself will spread to other parts of the country, in a time of great intolerance. “In India, nationality has become a big thing now,” he explained. “India is a prison of suppressed nationalities. Tamil Nadu was the forerunner at one point. This crisis of nationality will come again. The BJP will ensure that this nationality question will remain alive. The Dravidian ideology will fight this and it will need to change to fight it. I see other states picking the anti-Hindi and anti-Hindu propaganda soon. Rationalism will spread to other states,” he said.

Parts one and two of the Tamil Nadu Caste Chronicles series are available here.

The author tweets @sandhyaravishan

President Mukherjee gives message of unity in diversity

The President was speaking during a function to celebrate 500th year of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s advent in Vrindavan.

Pranab Mukherjee

Living with diversity and finding unity in diversity is practised in India over centuries and it is part of our civilisational values, President Pranab Mukherjee said in Vrindavan on Wednesday against the backdrop of debate on ‘intolerance’ in the country.”Living with diversity, finding unity in diversity is practised in India over centuries. That is why many people wonder how is it possible in India, in one system of administration, in one Constitution, in one way of legal jurisprudence and functioning. “Is it possible to accommodate, to absorb so much diversity. Many a time we are confronted with these questions,” he asked and answered himself that “the answer lies in our civilisational values.”<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The President was speaking during a function to celebrate 500th year of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s advent in Vrindavan. Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a revered monk and a reformer in the medieval India. Mukherjee said that (civilisational values) is the reason why we live with 128 crores of people, the second largest population of the world, with almost all major religions. Seven major religions are practised in India, more than 100 languages are spoken and over 1,600 dialects are used in India, he said.”All three major ethnic groups Dravidians, Caucasians and Mongolites. They live in one piece of land. In whole of north eastern India you will find the concentration of Mongolite people. Whole south India, you will find Dravidian people and in North and North West, people belonging to Caucasians group. All these major ethnic groups live in one state.”It had been possible because of our cultural values, civilisational values, which has taught us over centuries and which has descendant on us and we have nurtured it which is a part of life and therefore it is no cliche to us,” the President said. Ever since the Dadri lynching and subsequent events, Mukherjee has been appealing for tolerance and pluralism.Citing teachings of various spiritual leaders and poets, he asked people to accept the message of great saints and “recharge our society, retransform ourselves with love and harmony”. He said India’s civilisation is 5,000 years old. “It has been contributed by many saints various sages but all converge into one vast ocean of humanity,” Mekherjee said. Later, the President visited Sri Radha Raman Temple to pay obeisance.

President Mukherjee calls for tolerance, says unity in diversity is part of our cultural values

Vrindavan: Living with diversity and finding unity in diversity is practised in India over centuries and it is part of our civilisational values, President Pranab Mukherjee said on Wednesday against the backdrop of debate on ‘intolerance’ in the country.

“Living with diversity, finding unity in diversity is practised in India over centuries. That is why many people wonder how is it possible in India, in one system of administration, in one Constitution, in one way of legal jurisprudence and functioning.

File photo of Pranab Mukherjee. PTIFile photo of Pranab Mukherjee. PTI

Pranab Mukherjee. File photo: PTI

“Is it possible to accommodate, to absorb so much diversity. Many a time we are confronted with these questions,” he asked and answered himself that “the answer lies in our civilisational values.”

The President was speaking during a function to celebrate 500th year of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s advent in Vrindavan. Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a revered monk and reformer in medieval India.

Mukherjee said that (civilisational values) is the reason why we live with 128 crores of people, the second largest population of the world, with almost all major religions.

Seven major religions are practised in India, more than 100 languages are spoken and over 1,600 dialects are used in India, he said.

“All three major ethnic groups Dravidians, Caucasians and Mongolites. They live in one piece of land. In whole of north eastern India you will find the concentration of Mongolite people. Whole south India, you will find Dravidian people and in North and North West, people belonging to Caucasians group. All these major ethnic groups live in one state.

“It had been possible because of our cultural values, civilisational values, which has taught us over centuries and which has descendant on us and we have nurtured it which is a part of life and therefore it is no cliche to us,” the President said.

Ever since the Dadri lynching and subsequent events, Mukherjee has been appealing for tolerance and pluralism. Citing teachings of various spiritual leaders and poets, he asked people to accept the message of great saints and “recharge our society, retransform ourselves with love and
harmony”.

He said India’s civilisation is 5,000 years old. “It has been contributed by many saints various sages but all converge into one vast ocean of humanity,” Mukherjee said.

Later, the President visited Sri Radha Raman Temple to pay obeisance.

PTI

The story behind MK Stalin’s image reboot before the 2016 Tamil Nadu Assembly polls

(Editor’s note: This story was originally published on 22 September) 

By Sandhya Ravishankar

A pink shirt, grey trousers, grey sneakers with neon green laces and shades to boot — MK Stalin, treasurer of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and possible chief ministerial candidate for Tamil Nadu in 2016, painted an incongruous picture for a Tamil politician as he kicked off his election yatra in Kanyakumari on Monday. Later in the day, he exchanged the pink shirt for a blue t-shirt, an even more astounding choice.

On Tuesday, Stalin went a step further — clad in a blue shirt and dark trousers, he rode a scooter in Ambasamudram, Tirunelveli district, leaving the locals in raptures.

Stalin has rarely been seen in trousers — his chosen attire usually is a crisply ironed white shirt and white ‘veshti’ (dhoti) with the DMK black and red colours on the border. Sometimes, during election campaigns, he sports a black and red scarf around his neck.

MK Stalin in an image released by the DMK

MK Stalin in an image released by the DMK

The last time Stalin was seen wearing trousers was in 2012 when he traveled with a contingent of DMK MPs to New York and Geneva to hand over petitions regarding the Sri Lankan war crimes issue to the United Nations Secretary-General and the United Nations Human Rights Council. On the day of his return to Chennai, huge posters had been plastered all along airport road in Chennai with a photograph of Stalin clad in a suit with the caption “Yes, we can!” plastered on the banner.

So why the sudden change in look?

Sources within Stalin’s camp tell Firstpost that this is a deliberate move to woo the young voters in the state. “Well, the idea is to break the ice first with the people,” said the source close to Stalin, adding, “He doesn’t want to be seen as a politician, he is going there to hear their issues and get inputs for the DMK’s manifesto. For that, he has to be seen as one among them, a common man.”

A video released by Stalin’s team shows him exhorting the people of Tamil Nadu to outrage. “Kobappadungal (Get angry),” roars Stalin in the video where he is shown walking along the sea. The video showcases the key election issues through letters written to Stalin by the people — unemployment, power cuts, water shortage, alcoholism and rising prices among others. This video will be shown on vans bearing LED screens as he continues on his yatra.

There is a growing understanding within the DMK that the electorate of Tamil Nadu has changed along with the demographics of age and aspirations. 60 lakh first-time voters will ink their fingers in 2016. A large proportion of the electorate next year will be millennials. “The current electorate seeks answers and is much more proactive,” said the source and added, “They want to know how their leader will change things for them.”

This realisation dawned on Stalin’s team following the upheaval created by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign in 2013-14. And it is probably with this in mind that Stalin has shifted gears in his electoral campaign that kicked off early in September on his ‘Mudiyattum Vidiyattum’ (Let it end, let it dawn) public rallies. In a public meeting at Tirupur last month, Stalin spoke of change and solutions, getting rid of the usual J Jayalalithaa-bashing rhetoric that has thus far dominated Dravidian politics. Exhorting youngsters to join politics, Stalin outlined specifically how he would change things if the DMK was brought back to power in 2016.

“There are 85 lakh youngsters in the waiting list at the state Employment Exchange,” said Stalin at the rally in Tirupur earlier this month. “I give an assurance to all youngsters of Tamil Nadu that we will create incubation centres to bring in new industries in the state. We will revamp the Employment Exchange itself and bring in private companies, conduct group discussions to ensure employment opportunities for our youth,” he said.

Specifics of this nature are a first for the Karunanidhi-led DMK, a party widely seen as being steeped in corruption and dynastic politics. Stalin’s father M Karunanidhi preferred to issue statements against his political rivals, whether MG Ramachandran or Jayalalithaa of the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. If all else failed, Karuna would take the freebie route, promising free colour TVs and playing the caste card. His rival and current Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa too prefers to issue statements decrying Karunanidhi’s moves and motives. Many years have passed since either of these two prominent Tamil politicians walked the dusty roads of the state or mingled with the common man or woman.

Stalin on the other hand, is walking his talk so far. He has been riding autorickshaws, walking in market areas and his team says he will also ride a bicycle as he continues on his ‘Namakku Naame’ yatra across the state. He is kissing babies, shaking hands with bus drivers and students, posing for photographs with elderly vegetable vendors and sipping tea at local chai shops with the locals.

For Stalin, this routine could well be the only option to take on Jayalalithaa in 2016. A discredited and weakened DMK with a nonagenarian leader faces a tough challenge from the rival Dravidian behemoth, the AIADMK, which has been rolling out freebies and welfare schemes with abandon. A personality battle with Jaya would severely backfire on Stalin. Speaking of development, change, aspirations and a connect with young voters is likely to work better for 2016. Stalin’s team has decided that Jayalalithaa’s larger-than-life image can only be countered by a politician who is seen as accessible, approachable and likeable by the masses.

Can Stalin be that? He is certainly trying.

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