M Augustine, a DMK man in Mitta Dhinnahalli village, didn’t vote for his party only once — when it aligned with the BJP in 1999. Fifteen years later, he still has concerns about the BJP, especially the one led by Narendra Modi, but is ready to vote for its regional ally. In another part of Dharmapuri,
C Palani, a local functionary of the MDMK youth wing, certainly won’t vote for his party’s ally this time.
This ally that is disrupting political loyalties is the Pattali Makkal Katchi, the party of Vanniyars that was accused of exploiting communal tensions after an inter-caste love marriage late 2012, echoes of which are heard even now. Its candidate is Anbumani Ramadoss, the former Union Health Minister whose crusade against tobacco and liquor brought him accolades from international bodies. But here, one way or the other, he is Anbumani, son of Vanniyar leader S Ramadoss.
It was the marriage between E Elavarasan, a Dalit youth from Natham in Dharmapuri, and Divya Nagarajan, a Vanniyar girl from the neighbouring Sellankottai and subsequent violence that gave rise to this extreme polarisation. In November 2012, a panchayat comprising elders of intermediary castes decided that Divya should return home, but she refused. Later that day, unable to reconcile with his daughter’s decision to marry a Dalit, Nagarajan hung himself, which triggered violent attacks against Dalits in the neighbourhood.
The worst affected was Natham, where over two hundred houses and huts were looted and torched, and household equipment, vehicles and documents destroyed. There were no casualties because the inmates of the village had fled when they heard about the suicide. Hundreds were left on the streets within hours.
But this was not exactly a Vanniyar backlash. Among those arrested for violence included other caste Hindu communities like Gounders, Chettiyars and others, cutting across party lines including AIADMK, DMK, DMDK and PMK. Nagarajan, for instance, was the local village secretary of the DMDK.
Clashes against Dalits spread to various parts of northern Tamil Nadu. They justified their anger with charges of “fake marriages” scripted by Dalit politicians to “extort money” from well-off caste Hindu parents. Dharmapuri town still whispers about one such marriage where crores of rupees allegedly changed hands to “retrieve” the girl. Somewhere along the way, PMK emerged as the leader of the caste Hindus and Ramadoss its loudest voice.
“I should not be going with Ramadoss because of my reservations about BJP and its policies like uniform civil code. But today I am willing to vote for Anbumani, which is a vote for his father. It is a ‘thank you’ gesture for standing with us,” said Augustine, 48. Near his tailoring shop is the teashop run by D Govindasamy, 53, an AIADMK supporter who agreed with his friend on the issue. “It is them who are provoking us to be casteist,” he said.
This tension is not exactly on the verge of exploding. Both Govindasamy and Augustine have customers from neighbouring Dalit colony. But will they consider voting for a Dalit candidate fielded by their parties? …continued »