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I have written enough on Thol Thirumavalavan, prominent Dalit leader from Tamil Nadu. I would not have been tempted to write another but for dear friend N Ravi Kumar’s portrayal in these columns recently.

The account seeks to portray Thirumavalavan as a great crusader for secularism and claims that other political parties are rallying behind him in the effort. What kind of stature do Dalit leaders enjoy in the state? More important, what is the population of Dalits, all the denominations put together?

The Dalits are estimated to constitute roughly 20 percent of the total population of Tamil Nadu. And of them the Paraiyar sect, to which Thirumavalavan belongs, account for 13 per cent, Pallars five per cent and Arundhatiyars two per cent or so.

Ravikumar, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi’s general secretary and a close associate of Thirumavalavan, said in a newspaper interview not long ago: “According to the 2011 census, there are 76 castes in SC list. Out of these, 2 castes have no members; 14 have already separated – 7 identify themselves as ‘Arundhathiyars’ and 7 more are demanding that they be recognised as ‘DevendrakulaVellalars’ and be removed from the SC list. Out of these 60 castes, Adi Dravidars and Paraiyars constitute around 90 lakh in terms of population. If we identify the 60 castes as Adi Dravidars, it will cross 1 crore people in terms of population and they will be around 65% of the total Dalit population in the State,” he said.

Now the party is almost totally identified with the Paraiyar sect. Very few functionaries at any level are from any other segment. Ravikumar himself claims 65 per cent of the total SC population are Paraiyars. What does this vote bank mean in any election? In how many constituencies do they play a decisive role?

The Dalits are estimated to constitute roughly 20 percent of the total population of Tamil Nadu. And of them the Paraiyar sect, to which Thirumavalavan belongs, account for 13 per cent, Pallars five per cent and Arundhatiyars two per cent or so

In north and central districts they could be found in significant concentrations and they have a scattered presence elsewhere too.  Of the 46 reserved assembly constituencies, more than 30 could perhaps see a dominant presence of the sect. And not to forget there is no guarantee that the voters of the sect will vote en bloc for the VCK or as per its diktat.

In the last elections DMK allotted it only six seats, six remember, and it won four of them, on the crest of a pro-DMK wave. Previously in 2011, in the DMK front, the VCK contested just ten seats, but lost in all of them. In 2016 it was part of a third front and came a cropper again.

Point to be noted is that even major Dravidian parties that need the VCK’s support won’t allot them more than ten seats. Such is their assessment of the party’s vote base.

Also Read: VCK Chief takes centre-stage in anti-saffron politics

And even if they think a Dalit party is strong, they won’t cede much space for fear of antagonizing the upper and intermediate castes. Indeed both the DMK and the AIADMK are controlled by intermediate caste interests, and hence they won’t be too very eager to accommodate the oppressed Dalits.

Such being the harsh reality I don’t see any point in getting excited that Thirumavalavan is in the forefront of the battle against communalism – only the Left parties were part of the demonstrations led by him, and the DMK kept aloof. Though he seems committed to the cause of secularism, M.K. Stalin doesn’t go out of his way to confront he Centre, most certainly not the Hindu sentiments. Besides he is not going to allow any fraternal party to grow big, and the VCK is not expecting to contest more than two seats in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, a repeat of 2019 scenario.

History shows Thiruma has not meant much in terms of the plight of the Dalits. A few years ago, he seemed to long for the entry of Rajinikanth into the political arena.

One can only hope he puts his act together and Dalits get a better deal.


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