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"It's social engineering, not caste politics", asserts Anbumani Ramadoss

Suave and articulate Youth Wing leader of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss, in an exhaustive interview with The Hindu Centre’s M.R. Venkatesh, rules out any alliance with either the Dravidian parties or the National parties in all future elections. He gives strong indications of the PMK wishing to lead a broad ‘social coalition’ of like-minded parties and OBC groups in the 2016 Assembly elections in the State.

Breaking his silence after his recent arrest and release, Anbumani Ramadoss throws fresh light on the ‘new politics’ of the PMK, vowing to impose total prohibition in the State and abolish all freebies except three – free education, quality health care and basic inputs for farmers, if a PMK-led formation is voted to power.

Anbumani made it categorically clear that the PMK was not anti-Dalit, though it opposed the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) romanticising filmy infatuations passing off as inter-caste love marriages in Tamil society. He also voiced the view that it was high time that India was led by an “OBC Prime Minister”. Excerpts from his candid interaction on a wide range of issues:

What has triggered this sudden political belligerence by the PMK, which in recent years has been an alliance party politics player?

First, we (PMK) had gone off the path in 1998 (when the PMK joined an AIADMK-BJP alliance for the Lok Sabha polls); till 1998 we stood alone in all the elections we faced. In the first election (1991), we won one MLA seat, in the second election we had 4 MLAs in the Assembly and then we went into an alliance. We were in alliance for nearly 10 years and this is where we swerved off the path, where we went wrong. So, we accept we have done wrong and this acceptance has come after 10 years. Hereafter, we won’t go into an alliance with anybody; rather, we will head an alliance without the Dravidian parties and the National parties. So, this is our blatantly stated policy today and in the future as well like.

Hereafter, we won’t go into an alliance with anybody, rather, we will head an alliance without the Dravidian parties and the national parties.

Second, when we were in alliance, people were asking why the PMK was suddenly in alliance with this party or that party. There were only two main parties to align with – the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam). People frequently charged us with swinging sides. And today, when we go it alone, people are asking why we are going alone.

The direct answer to this question is that with 46 years of Dravidian parties rule in Tamil Nadu, people are fed up, tired, angry, with both these parties, the DMK and the AIADMK. People want a change. Unfortunately, in the last Assembly Elections (2011), there was no alternative. People were angry with the DMK, they wanted to throw out the DMK and that is why without any choice, they elected Ms. Jayalalithaa. But today, a spectrum of people from different communities, from different classes, religions, hierarchies, everybody is completely upset with the Dravidian parties. They want a change. In between, Vijayakant (actor-turned-leader of Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam (DMDK) was projected by the Media as the change. But he was completely exposed by his lack of leadership qualities, incoherence in public places and intolerance to criticism.

So, on the political front, we are confident we will be that alternative in Tamil Nadu and hence we say we will go it alone in all elections coming in the future.

What defines the ‘New Politics’ you have been speaking of in recent months?

The Dravidian parties which have ruled Tamil Nadu have given three cultures to the State: the first is the culture of freebies (‘Ilavasangal’), the second, alcohol culture, and the third, cinema culture. As the PMK, we are against all these three cultures. So, in our ideology of the ‘New Politics, New Path’ (‘Pudhiya Arasiyal, Pudhiya Nambikkai, Pudhiya Paathai’), the first signature a PMK Chief Minister is going to put on a document in 2016 is total prohibition in Tamil Nadu.

CBI probe will ‘expose’ PMK’s misdeeds, says VCK chief Thol. Thirumaavalavan

Speaking to M.R. Venkatesh over the phone from New Delhi, shortly after attending a Parliamentary Committee meeting, VCK leader Thol.Thirumaavalavan rubbished all charges against the VCK made by the PMK leadership over the recent violent episodes from Dharmapuri to Marakanam.

The Chief Minister, Ms. J. Jayalalithaa’s recent statement in the Assembly on the PMK’s role in the violence at Marakanam, “has completely exposed the PMK and cast a bad image in the eyes of the public,” said Thirumaavalavan. In the Dalit leader’s view, it brought back memories of the Vanniyar Sangam’s 1987 ‘road roko’ agitation in Tamil Nadu, in which the Dalits had directly been at the receiving end of their violence. Further, “everybody knows that hundreds of trees were cut down”, he said, alluding to how the PMK has still to battle the image of a party “that emerged from violence”. The VCK had no issues regarding a CBI probe for it would only “expose” the PMK, he countered.

The root cause of all these developments, Thirumaavalavan argued, was the PMK’s “frustration”, resulting from its poor showing in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and later the 2011 Assembly polls, both in alliance with the DMK. The results showed that the PMK’s own base in North Tamil Nadu “was eroded even after the transfer of votes from its allies”. Hence, Thirumaavalavan alleged that the “only weapon” that Dr. S Ramadoss could deploy to regain the PMK’s vote-bank was to “whip up caste sentiments and mobilisation of non-Dalit communities”.

Thirumaavalavan claimed that Dr. Ramadoss had even openly declared in November 2012 that “we (PMK) are going to introduce a new formula of social engineering as in U.P.” So, all this big hue and cry over the Dharmapuri inter-caste marriage affair between Ilavarasan a Dalit youth and Divya a Vanniyar girl, the subsequent violence and the latest Marakanam incidents “were all well planned by the PMK,” the VCK leader charged. Dalits were the most vulnerable sections of society and how could they mediate in settling inter-caste love marriage issues, asked the VCK leader. “Leave alone a CBI enquiry, as demanded by the PMK; let an all-party committee be set up to investigate each and every complaint of the PMK and I am willing to accept if it finds anything against us,’’ added Thirumaavalavan.

Alcohol is ruining the fabric of the youth, the fabric of the entire village set-up. We won’t give any freebies to anybody except three: No free TVs, mixies, grinders or goats; we will only give free education to all, and make the ‘samacheer kalvi’ system come up to one CBSE standard for all; second, we will provide quality health care to all; I know how a good health system is devised as I conducted the National Rural Health Mission when I was the Union Health Minister; and third, free basic inputs to needy agriculturists. Beyond these three, we won’t give anything free to anybody. Our priority will be to give the youth jobs, make them earn to enhance their self-esteem. Protecting natural resources and the environment will be another of our main concerns.

The PMK’s bid to revert to its mid-1980s type of violent protests has forced the Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa to threaten a ban on the PMK in the wake of the latest Marakanam incidents.

You see, in the Marakanam issue, the PMK had no role to play in the violence. We have been holding a ‘Vanniyar Sangam’ meeting every year in Mamallapuram for the last 30 years, for which Vanniyars cutting across different political parties come with their family members for what is essentially a family function. Even Ms. Jayalalithaa came to one of those meetings in 2000 when she was not Chief Minister. This year on that day (April 25), near Marakanam, a convoy of vehicles were suddenly stopped by some miscreants, allegedly from the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) party, who had planned this three days before. It was a planned, brutal, murderous attack on PMK and Vanniyar cadres who were in the vehicles along with their families. I ask you, how will people, who have come with their families, with their wives and children, resort to violence? Our office-bearers in Marakanam had complained to the Police DSP two days in advance saying that the VCK people were planning to create violence. The complaint had fallen on deaf ears. And then several things happened, including over 500 of our cadres being attacked brutally. Then the Police fired on us. In spite of all this happenings to us, thousands of cases being filed on us, not one case was filed on them (VCK). The 11-page statement made by the Chief Minister in the Assembly on the incidents, saying that the PMK is responsible for all this, is only the Police version. And finally, we are blamed, saying PMK is a violent party. So, we are asking for a CBI enquiry and a judicial enquiry by a sitting or a retired High Court Judge; the CBI can enquire about who committed all these crimes. We want a fair enquiry and whosoever has done wrong, let them be punished.

What about the violence after PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss’ arrest?

My leader, Dr. Ramadoss, after all this, had planned to go to Villupuram with about 2,000 PMK cadres to hold an hour-long demonstration against the Government. Permission was initially given by the Police and then suddenly denied. They arrested him even before going there at 11 am. But they remanded him late in the night and took him to Tiruchi jail at 4-30 am the next morning, making a 75-year-old man with heart and other problems wait for so long, and lodged him in a cell where the heat was completely unbearable. There was nothing in that case and he got bail, but they slammed three more cases against him including one for the Kudankulam (nuclear plant) protests, a day after the Supreme Court had said that all cases related to Kudankulam must be withdrawn! But blaming the PMK for the violence after his arrest is completely unacceptable.

It is high time an OBC became the Prime Minister of India.

It is not us who have done all these things such as smashing buses; we blame the miscreants, anti-social elements and some VCK cadre for all that; but they want to blame us, the PMK for all these things. Since then, the Police have gone completely berserk against us; about 7,000 of our cadres have been arrested so far, including 2,000 of them under the Prevention of Public Property Destruction Act. 100 of our cadres have been arrested under the NSA (National Security Act) and the Goondas Act, all in one week’s time. This has never happened in the history of Independent India. The people arrested under ‘Goondas Act’ and the NSA are all top-level office bearers; this is a vendetta by the ruling party to put them in, to see that they don’t function till the time when the next Parliament elections will come. As for Ms. Jayalalithaa’s warning that the PMK will be banned, only the Election Commission of India has the authority to do it. When they say compensation for the violence has to be paid by the PMK, was there not violence way back in 2000 when the ‘Pleasant Stay Case’ verdict against the AIADMK leader had been pronounced?

Your father, Dr. Ramadoss, was for strengthening bonds with the Dalits. Why this sudden face-off, particularly after last year’s violent incidents in Dharmapuri?

We are not against Dalits. We were never against them and in future too we are not going to be against Dalits. We are very clear on that. We are only going against the VCK founded by Thol. Thirumaavalavan. If we say something against the VCK, we are dubbed anti-Dalit, but that is not the case. But of late, VCK has become a party of all sorts of violent, anti-social elements who come to the party for their protection.

From home to hospital

A distinguished alumni of the Madras Medical College, Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss, the PMK’s younger face symbolizing its aspirations to evolve into a mainstream regional party, has now to play the political therapist too.

Shuttling between Chennai’s Apollo Hospital’ in the last ten days or so, where his father and PMK’s founder-leader Dr. S. Ramadoss was recuperating after a cardiac bypass surgery, and his home where he attends to constant phone calls from distressed family members of PMK functionaries, jailed in the wake of the recent violent incidents in the State, Anbumani’s new high-profile role in the party makes him see the value of empathy.

They look up to the chinna ayya (as Ramadoss Jr. is called in party circles) for some reassurance on the fate of their family bread winners. “I will visit you all after ayya (the elder Dr. Ramadoss) is discharged from the Hospital,” is Anbumani’s constant refrain while replying to his callers from various districts, adding, “don’t worry, we will make sure that all those arrested come out from jail soon”. ‘’I am also going to meet the Prime Minister and the President in Delhi to explain the ground situation in Tamil Nadu,” he adds. The elder Ramadoss was discharged from hospital on Tuesday.

A protest-signalling black flag still flutters atop Anbumani’s house on ‘Tilak Street’ in Thyagaraya Nagar area, a predominantly middle class settlement of South Chennai. Trudging along it in the peak of summer, one is briefly struck by a stunning paradox in that geographical combination. The street, named after a great radical of the Indian National Congress, is part of an area christened after Sir Pitti Thyagaraya Chetty, one of the founding pillars of the erstwhile Justice Party, the predecessor to the Periyar-led Dravidian Movement, which had stoutly opposed the Congress since the early 1920s in the former Madras Presidency. But now, ironically, from that very locale, Anbumani seeks to vociferously defy both these political traditions in charting out a ‘New Politics, a New Path’ for the PMK.

Even Thirumaavalavan has lost control of his party. In fact, no party has done for the Dalits as the PMK has in recent years. For instance, the first Ministership we got at the Centre we gave to Dalit Ezhilmalai though we had four Vanniyar community MPs then (in the BJP-led NDA tenure). The second Ministership, we gave to E. Ponnusamy, a Dalit. Even today, the party’s general secretary is a Dalit. Once, my father carried a Dalit body himself and cremated it because caste Hindus did not allow the body to be taken through the village. So, we are definitely not against the Dalits. It is a perception of the media.

We are also not against the concept of ‘love marriages’. But what the VCK has been up to – we know it because we are in the field – as it happened in a village in Dharmapuri district last year, they have made love – not necessarily between a Dalit boy and an upper caste girl – into a business, allegedly extorting huge money from people depending on their social status to ‘get back’ their respective daughters home. It is such enacted love marriages that we oppose. It is not just Vanniyars, but people from almost all communities including Thevars, Nadars, Chettiyars, Naidus, Vellala Gounders, Reddiyars and Brahmins who have been affected by this.

The second issue is we are against the misuse of the ‘Prevention of Atrocities against SC/ST Act’. We will press for modifying the Act. Since we are the only party now addressing these issues, people from various communities are coming to us and want Dr. Ramadoss to take up the leadership. But we don’t want any violent incidents in Tamil Nadu. We want peace; that is our motto.

Your recent bid to form a broad OBC Axis by inviting U.P. Chief Minister Akilseh Yadav for your meeting in Chennai – will it work as a political strategy, as the major OBCs, including the Vanniyars, are spread across all parties?

This is not only with Vanniyars; OBCs are in different parties. They constitute 65%, nearly 2/3rd of India’s population, and it is high time an OBC became the Prime Minister of India. So, that is something which we proposed in that meeting. When, in Karnataka, Mr. Siddharamiah brings the OBCs, Dalits and Muslims together, that is called social engineering. When Mayawati brought Brahmins and Dalits together, it was called a rainbow coalition; when Mulayam Singh weaves together the Brahmins, Muslims, Yadavas and other OBCs, that is social engineering; but when the PMK does it, that is caste politics. Why this bias against us? The Vanniyars are the single largest, most backward community in Tamil Nadu. So, now we are bringing all the OBCs, BCs, and even the forward communities together on some issues. They are all asking us (PMK) to lead and we are confident that in 2016, we will form a ‘Social Coalition’ for the Assembly Elections. We are asking the people to give us just one chance and see the change.

The Vanniyars as a bloc, since the days of leaders like Manickavel Naicker and S. S. Ramasamy Padayachi, have been politically better off in alliance with the Congress. Will the PMK revive that strategy again?

The problem with the Congress was that in 1952, Manickavel Naicker and Ramasamy Padaiyachi wanted MP seats from the Congress in the first General Election of the new Indian Republic. They went to Delhi, but the Congress leaders refused them a seat. So, they were upset, annoyed, came back to Tamil Nadu and said that the Congress is not respecting us. They each formed a party and stood alone and together they won 7 MP seats and 26 MLA constituencies. But then the Congress by itself did not get a majority in the old Madras Presidency though Vanniyars by and large voted for them. The slogan, ‘Vanniyar votes not for others’ came up then. However, Rajaji intervened, spoke to both the leaders and then they went with the Congress, and later merged their respective parties as well. This offended the Vanniyar community people, so they later shifted allegiance to the DMK and then the AIADMK. But finally, both the regional parties did nothing. That was when my leader started the ‘Vanniyar Sangam’ in 1980. You could argue that Vanniyars are spread across all the parties. But today, there is a consolidation process on. When we say that the PMK is going it alone, we have regained the lost confidence of the Vanniyar community people. This is something which is now gaining momentum and we are confident we will do well in the coming Lok Sabha polls.

So does the Congress need you more now? The DMK is also wooing you for a Rajya Sabha seat for its party chief M. Karunanidhi’s daughter, Ms. Kanimozhi.

Absolutely; we do not need the Congress support today. In Tamil Nadu, there are only leaders in the Congress, no cadres. As for supporting the DMK in the Rajya Sabha polls, there is absolutely no question of that.

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