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Monday, April 23, 2001

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Pro-AIADMK shift visible among Thevar youth

By Suresh Nambath

CHENNAI, APRIL 22. The growing Thevar-Dalit divide is yet to take the form of an AIADMK-DMK polarisation, but the AIADMK appears to have gained from Thevar consolidation in the northern parts of the southern districts offsetting losses to the Puthiya Tamilagam due to Dalit consolidation in the other areas.

Both Thevars and Dalits are dominant in the southern districts, but Thevars form a decisive force in Madurai and Theni. Although the anti-Dalit feeling is widespread among Thevars in these areas, the pro-AIADMK shift is clearly visible only among youth.

Younger Thevars resent ``State patronage'' of the Dalits and blame the DMK Government for the ``marginalisation'' of the poorer sections among non-Dalits.

Reservation is a big issue and Thevar youth hold the Government responsible for lack of educational and employment opportunities.

Thevar students who feel they have lost the competitive edge due to reservation, youngsters who find Government jobs increasingly difficult to find, farmers who do not get loans, all blame Dalits for their situation.

For each of them, Dalits form the reference point. As Dalit students with lower marks enter college, as Dalit youngsters with lower educational qualification obtain Government jobs, as Dalit farmers manage loans without providing any security, the Thevar resentment builds up.

Thevar community leaders in Madurai and Theni districts are confident, not without reason, that Dalits in their areas would vote for the AIADMK-led front. Dalit assertion is at a low-point in these parts.

As one middle-aged Thevar of Usilampatti claims: ``Dalits would not even walk past us wearing footwear. They will surely vote for the AIADMK-led front.''

Traditionally, Dalits have been the backbone of the AIADMK in the south. The Thevar affiliation of the AIADMK, which was exaggerated due to the perceived influence of the Sasikala family in party affairs, is quite recent.

Only the organised Dalits have deserted the party in Madurai and the adjoining areas due to the AIADMK identification with the Thevar community.

Not surprisingly, the AIADMK uses the Thevar caste card in these areas without any compunction.

Although the AIADMK general secretary, Ms. Jayalalitha, studiously avoids mentioning caste names during her canvassing for votes, this is not the case with AIADMK workers at the ground level.

Indeed, one of the charges being made by AIADMK campaign managers against the DMK front in Usilampatti is that it did not accord due status to the Thevar community leader. Apart from ignoring the Vallarasu faction of the Thevar-based All India Forward Bloc, the DMK front did not accommodate the kin of Mookaiah Thevar. That, for the AIADMK, is a grave crime committed by the DMK against the Thevar community.

The anti-Thevar Dalit consolidation is evident only further south where the Puthiya Tamilagam is making inroads in Tuticorin, Ramanathapuram and Tirunelveli districts.

Dalits in these areas have broken free from the feudal grip of the Thevars and actively participate in identity politics.

Also, numerically, the Dalits are stronger in these districts. The south of the south then could be the real test ground for the gains/losses of the AIADMK on account of the Thevar affinity.

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