Mr. Thirumavalavan told Morning Tidings that it was important to keep the alliance intact and be part of the winning coalition.
The founder of VCK Thole. Thirumavalavan has been at the forefront of organizing several protests in various issues of relevance in this state – NEET, CAA-NRC-NPR, Farm Law, Manusmriti – and in the last five years in shaping the BJP's ruling AIADMK and Tamil Nadu ideological opposition . . A few days ago, Mr. Thirumavalavan formally committed to stay in the DMK-led Secular Progressive Alliance and the six assembly constituencies were allotted. While his party cadre has expressed displeasure over the DMK's decision to allot half the seats originally sought by the VCK, Mr. Thirumavalavan told Morning Tidings that it was important to keep the alliance intact and be part of the winning coalition. Excerpts from the interview:
VCK has played a strong role in shaping the ideological opposition of BJP-AIADMK in the state. Nevertheless, DMK has allocated only 6 assembly seats. Are you happy with it
I am glad that the alliance remains intact. For five years, we created a perception among the people that it is not just an alliance for elections, but also on an ideological platform. After the 2016 state assembly elections, we have protested together on a range of issues – NEET, hydrocarbons, environmental issues, for federal rights, Eelam Tamil, Manusmriti and Farm Law. I did not want to break the alliance in terms of a few seats because it would be useless in all our efforts in the last five years.
There is a view that the seats allotted to your party are not in line with your efforts in the last five years to create a narrative against the AIADMK and the BJP…
There is no need for DMK, with whom we have an electoral alliance, which we have done in the interest of the welfare of the people. The right honor will be to gain respect from the people for our work. The DMK argued that they did not want their next government to be a minority government and it should not be subjected to oppression from the BJP. We see logic in his argument. While they must accommodate coalition partners, they must not only win enough seats to form a government, but must also have the strength to secure it. He has decided to contest 180 seats and this is where I am convinced by his argument. Apart from this, it is also a victorious coalition – AIADMK is facing 10 years of anti-incumbency and is also facing a confrontation due to alliance with BJP. There is a difference between contesting 12 seats in a losing coalition and 6 seats in a winning coalition.
Although PMK and VCK are considered as representatives of the two major communities in Tamil Nadu, many of your critics have stated that while the PMK sealed the alliance with the AIADMK, they passed a law that passed the MBC quota. The inner guarantees internal reservations for the vanisars, VCK only plays a minor role when it comes to electoral politics. Why?
There is no need to compare the two parties – PMK and VCK. The PMK is openly following caste-based politics. If a position is vacant for a judge in the High Court or the Supreme Court, they say why a Vanniyar cannot be made a judge. His politics focuses on a single caste. It is more about using caste for electoral politics than ensuring the welfare of the people they represent. According to him, Vanniyar has 20% of the population. But, I think they have not been able to go beyond 6% in terms of vote share. Therefore, 14–16% of the Vanniyar population are voting for other parties.
Since 2009, the party has been facing a downfall. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, they lost all 7 seats. In the 2011 state assembly elections, he contested 30 seats as part of the DMK alliance and won only 3.. After 2011, he clearly pushed forward caste politics – against caste honor and love marriage – and strengthened his caste. In 2016, he introduced a candidate (Anbumani Ramadoss) as the chief ministerial candidate with the slogan ‘Mataram, Munnetram', but none could win the seat.
Based on the 1931 census, 10.5% internal reservation has been fixed. What is the Vanniyar population today after 90 years? What is this reservation based on? What are the conclusions of the Kulasekaran committee in this regard? It is a well-planned, orchestral move by AIADMK and PMK. The MBC is divided into three groups without their consent – dividing the unity of MBC and establishing division is the BJP's agenda. They do not want the Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes communities to form as one community. Dr. Ramdas's demand has helped the BJP in its agenda. Now, Mukkulathor, Yadav and other communities are opposing it. Christian Vellar Pervai Sangam has already registered a case against the move. While everyone is entitled to social justice, this should not be the result of creating (more) division in society.
VCK has earlier demanded that reservation for SC should be increased from 18% to 21%. Did you make any demand to the DMK before finalizing the electoral alliance?
We have dr There is no demand like Ramdas. We cannot make such a demand in front of the opposition party. If the coalition wins, we will demand that a caste population census be done and ensure that the reservation is restructured accordingly.
The DMK and Congress are struggling to end their seat-sharing talks. It has been said that the Congress has been greatly weakened in India and Tamil Nadu. According to you, what should be the strategy of the Congress now?
The Congress should ideologically oppose the BJP. They have a leadership crisis and are unable to highlight the BJP and its policies for the common people of India. They feel that if they oppose the BJP and its policies, they will be portrayed as opposing Hindus and Hinduism. They think they will lose the Hindu vote and are reluctant to do so. They feel that if they are anti-Hindutva, it will not be treated as anti-BJP, but instead, as if they are anti-Hindu. They are confused. And the same situation exists for other parties.
BJP is constantly showing that they are the protectors of Hindus in India. Congress is losing to them. Even if they are secular, the only way to establish secularism is to ideologically oppose the BJP and the RSS. They can highlight how they are capitalist, anti-social justice, anti-worker, anti-federalist and anti-peasant. They are not doing it properly. His protests and criticism are mainly defensive.
A longstanding criticism against mainstream parties like DMK, AIADMK, Congress and BJP is that Dalit candidates are limited to reserved constituencies only. Will VCK field Dalit candidates in general constituencies. If yes, for how much?
We have asked for 1 or 2 general constituencies out of the 6 seats allotted to us. We do not have enough seats to field Dalit candidates. In this election, we will not do this. We will field non-Dalits only in general constituencies.
What do you think is the future of the Third Front in Tamil Nadu, now headed by Kamal Haasan? He also criticized the DMK for allocating only 6 seats to VCK and said ‘my younger brother Thirumavalavan should come here'.
If a third front is formed just before the election, it will not get the support of the people. A front has to emerge and must contest two or three consecutive elections. Only such third front will get the support of the people. If political parties come together just before the election and claim that they are the alternative, then people do not accept it.
Secondly, any election becomes a bipolar competition here. If AIADMK, its opponents, DMK, become the main antagonist. People also do not consider other parties important. The anti-incumbent votes were also split on the Third Front. Despite the electorate defeating a party, they are unable to defeat them because a third front will split the votes.
Actor Kamal Haasan is facing his first assembly election (after contesting Lok Sabha elections). Only now a third front is being formed. It is highly unlikely to emerge as a credible alternative and it will only end the split votes. I am not referring to this as criticism, but this is the reality. I can only thank Kamal Haasan, not for criticizing the DMK for not giving us enough seats, but for having a favorable view on VCK that we are more qualified.
What are the challenges in a VCK willing to lead an alliance despite representing such a large population?
There are many factors – having the financial strength to lead an alliance. We have been in politics for 20 years, but we are still a party in the field of development. Although there is influence among us, we do not have a proven vote bank. When we contest a small number of seats, our vote bank is small. While we have faced some elections and have been in politics for 20 years, we have no way to lead the coalition.
Some of your critics say that you probably lack ambition …
I have ambitions, but I also need to be practical. I cannot make misconceptions or give false hope to my supporters. If someone starts a Dalit or Muslim party, we are being called communal. If I have to merge into the mainstream, I have to struggle until everyone accepts me. It is not that I do not aspire to become Chief Minister or that working class people do not have the capacity to lead. I am not underestimating them. Political recognition is not just electoral recognition. If we win 7 assembly seats in the coalition, we will get a symbol. The real recognition is when every (or at least) section of society accepts my leadership without being marginalized.
Your supporters say that if you strengthen enough Dalit vote bank then you will be considered a serious political force?
Although VCK is a mainstream political party, the first thing we facilitated is Dalit consolidation. Because of that we have access. It has taken us 20 years to reach here. It is a long struggle. This should continue even after me.