Dalit Panthers of India leader R Thirumalvalavan is a busy man these days, allotting seats to his party candidates for the Tamil Nadu assembly elections.
Paattali Makkal Kachi leader Dr S Ramadoss, a friend of Thirumalvalavan and the DPI, tried his best to negotiate with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to include the DPI too in the DMK-led Democratic Progressive Alliance but DMK leader Karunanidhi asked the PMK to share a few seats with the DPI from its share.
The DPI took it as an insult and switched over to the other side. The ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, ever ready to take the DPI in its fold, welcomed the party.
In an interview with Rediff India Abroad Contributing Editor Shobha Warrier, Thirumalvalavan explains why he joined the AIADMK-led alliance.
It was reported that Dr Ramadoss tried to include you in the DPA. What went wrong in the negotiations with the DMK?
For the last one year, Dr Ramadoss has been openly saying that the DPI also should be included in the DPA. Even then, Kalaignar Karunanidhi did not pay any heed to his suggestion.
Why do you think Karunanidhi did not admit your party to the alliance?
When the press asked him the question, he said he had no objection in having the DPI in the alliance but added that there was no space for them in the present alliance. He further said if the PMK still wanted to have the DPI, it could allot some seats from what had been given to them.
We found it quite insulting.
In 2001, the DMK treated us as an alliance partner but now they are treating us not as an independent political party but just as a wing of the PMK. How can we tolerate such treatment? We didn't want to depend on the PMK's mercy, and we said an outright 'no' to such a suggestion.
The DPA does not have representation from any Dalit parties. Still, the DMK refused to include you in the alliance. What could be the reason?
From 2004 onwards, there have been some problems between the DMK and us.
In 2001, we had an alliance with the DMK, and contested eight seats in Tamil Nadu and two in Pondicherry. Only I won the elections.
In 2004, we demanded one parliamentary constituency for the Dalit Panthers but he [Karunanidhi] rejected our request. We felt insulted.
Our point of view was that he was not yet ready to recognise Dalit people in Tamil Nadu as a political force. He only wanted to exploit the people to get votes. We said this and walked out of the alliance. I also resigned the assembly seat that I had won, in protest.
He felt I was trying to insult him. We feel that was why he didn't want to include us in the DPA.
Were you in touch with the AIADMK all the time, or was it decided all of a sudden?
After Kalaignar made the statement that if the PMK wanted, they could give us seats from their kitty, the PMK kept quiet. We also didn't expect any reaction from them.
Anyway, we had no plan to join the DMK alliance when they were not ready to give us respect. So, we decided to contest the election independently. Our cadres also agreed to the idea of contesting alone in 234 seats. We announced it publicly. More than 500 applications came from our cadres.
It was then that the AIADMK called us.
Who from the AIADMK contacted you?
That is confidential. They approached me after Kalaignar made that statement.
But you had decided to contest independently. Why then did you accept the AIADMK offer?
We took the decision to go independently before the AIADMK called us. When the call came, we convened our central committee and discussed the alliance in detail. All our cadres wanted us to join the alliance.
Is it because in Tamil Nadu if you go it alone without the help of either of the two major alliances, it will be extremely difficult to make a mark?
Yes, it is extremely difficult. That is why we decided to join one of the alliances and fight the election.
What kind of discussion did you have with the AIADMK?
There was no bargain or discussion. They invited us and we joined the alliance. It was a gentleman's agreement. Only after we joined the alliance did we discuss the number of constituencies we would contest from.
Like Vaiko, you are one of the strongest supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and Jayalalithaa is one politician who is totally against the LTTE. Will there not be a clash of ideologies?
We don't confuse ideology with electoral alliance. Electoral alliance is temporary and done to share power, that's all. She knows very well that we are strong supporters of Tamil Eelam but remember, the AIADMK is not against the Tamil Eelam people. We will not dilute our ideology for alliances. We are a separate party with a different ideology and alliances are made only to share power. You should not confuse both.
Your party moved from one alliance to another. How will you justify this to the people?
We do not have to justify; people know the facts. They know that the DMK forced us to take such a decision.
In 2004, Kalaignar openly rejected our request for a Lok Sabha seat. People know that. After 2004, we have no relationship with the DMK or their alliance. Ever since, we have been working independently. People also know what is happening now. Without sharing power, how can you support a political party?
When I first interviewed you, you said the PMK was dangerous to the country, democracy and the people. At that time, your party and the PMK were at loggerheads but now you are friends. Is the situation between the Vanniyars and the Dalits better in the northern belt of the state now?
To bring peace in that area, we decided to work together. People also accepted our decision to join hands for the betterment of the people as a whole. We are trying to develop better social relationship between the two communities.
Is the relationship better now?
Yes. You will see that there is no brutal violence against Dalits there now. There are no law and order issues also there. The northern districts are quite peaceful.
Ramadoss tried to include you in the DPA. After you chose to join the AIADMK led alliance, did he contact you?
Why should he contact me? Neither did he contact me nor did I contact him. He is with the DPA and we are with the AIADMK alliance. Both of us are working for our victory.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj