Thol Thirumavalavan is the president of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) party, which has allied with the DMK for the polls. VCK has six MLA candidates in the fray.

With the BJP trying to make inroads into Tamil Nadu and parties indulging in aggressive social media campaigns, what is your assessment of electoral politics in the state?

Making VCK a political and cultural movement for social change is our aim. That is our main agenda. Electoral politics is key to achieving those dreams. We have been part of elections since 1999, and the growth of my party or Dalit politics is also a reflection of my life. Social media campaigns are just for hype; it is all about sharing posts and memes to build a perception. It gives a pseudo feeling that everything revolves around you. But you see, the ground reality is different. An example of this is the BJP. They have no base in Tamil Nadu as they are a communal party based on religion. Their base is in the RSS movement which is against social justice. They had alliance with the DMK, then AIADMK, and they have contested alone too. In the last two decades, they have been making attempts and still couldn’t make any progress because they have no stake in the lives of people, they don’t address people’s problems. Talking religion and God alone won’t help when your politics is hatred towards minorities.

What about the BJP’s efforts to find support among Dalits as well as backward communities?

This so-called social engineering is all a political show. They don’t have any political consciousness or concern. They don’t aim for Dalit empowerment. They are trying to focus on Dalits and Tribals to prevent conversions as part of their communal agenda. They know that it is their indifference to social justice that alienates weaker sections. The BJP knows that what helps the Congress party survive in India is their Dalit and Tribal vote banks along with minorities. This is a challenge for them at a time when non-Dalit OBC voters and non- minorities are already favouring regional parties. So to make a “Congress-free” India, BJP knows that they have to break the Congress base among Dalits and minorities.

As a Dalit leader, are the BJP’s efforts to win support within the community a challenge for your party?

Hindu polarisation is the only political plan of the BJP to build caste sentiments. That is why they are sending their leaders to unheard places to meet unknown people in villages. They attend community meetings at small places, their leaders perform pujas to build an emotional connection. In their style, they try to get support by injecting communal feelings, by instilling belief in caste and race, and by strengthening and building caste identities and caste sentiments. In the process, they are also adopting a strategy to dismantle the numerical strength of the OBC and SC communities.

But you see, in spite of all these tricks, they haven’t been able to make any inroads. They have only built a superficial visibility in mainstream and social media. Poverty in India cannot be defeated by the Hindutva ideology. The BJP’s fundamental aim is not social justice or poverty eradication but just consolidating these vote banks in their favour.

The BJP will soon get exposed. In the next Lok Sabha polls in 2024, they are going to encounter a strong anti-incumbency wave for being a mere “pro-sanathan” and “pro-corporate” party. They cannot sustain for long because they have diluted the Indian Constitution while following the RSS ideology for their communal politics and blatant globalisation and privatisation policies on the economic front.

Don’t you think that the condition of Dalits in Tamil Nadu is better than other states?

Of course. Our reforms and social justice policies over several decades helped Dalits in Tamil Nadu improve their lives much more than other states. Even before B R Ambedkar, we had social reformers such as Rettamalai Srinivasan (a Dalit politician from Madras Presidency who died in 1945) and Iyodhee Thass Pandithar (an anti-caste activist who embraced Buddhism). They were among the many people who paved the way for social justice reforms in Tamil Nadu.

What are the issues that matter the most in these elections?

There is silent anger in the minds of people. People of Tamil Nadu still cannot accept the AIADMK-BJP alliance. While the ruling AIADMK is corrupt, they are functioning like a benami government of the BJP, completely under their control. Moreover, the AIADMK government was also supporting Centre’s policies. All these have strengthened the anti-government wave in the state.

How do you look at the recent developments in the V K Sasikala camp?

Sasikala is a bold person… But who silenced her now? Her statement about her decision to withdraw from politics was careful. People believe that there was a mysterious reason that forced her to declare her withdrawal from politics. People strongly believe that BJP has a role in it. The BJP had also tried to make TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK part of the AIADMK-BJP alliance. The attempt failed. One thing is for sure, 90% of people voting for AMMK candidates will be AIADMK cadres, which means the Dhinakaran factor is going to split votes of the AIADMK in this election.

Where do you place the new entrant Asaduddin Owaisi in the election?

It will be a temporary phenomenon.

There is a strong argument that Kamal Haasan will split the DMK alliance’s votes as well.

Why is Kamal Haasan not attacking the BJP or the AIADMK? He is not my rival. Our enemy is the AIADMK and BJP. But there is a feeling among the people that Kamal Haasan is the B Team of the RSS and BJP. Many believe that he is actually working on behalf of the BJP. When our opposition to the AIADMK and BJP is more about ideology than winning an election, why is Kamal Haasan doing this? If he was a socialist or a democrat, as he often claims to be, he should have been training his guns at the AIADMK and BJP. But he is mostly attacking the DMK, a party which was in the opposition for the last 10 years. Moreover, he is also inviting unhappy DMK allies into his camp.

Dhinakaran or Kamal Haasan, I couldn’t see their anti-BJP politics. They make only harmless, passive comments against the BJP. And the clash between Dhinakaran and Edappadi K Palaniswami is all about their ego. But I remember that late J Jayalalithaa, despite being a Brahmin, had strongly fought against the BJP.

She toppled the A B Vajpayee government… She raised the “Modi or Lady” slogan in the last election. She dared to arrest Kanchi Shankaracharya in a criminal case. She had that courage, but Palaniswami has surrendered fully before the BJP.

Nobody has ever done politics in the BJP’s way. Instead of gaining power through democratic ways, the BJP is buying people, toppling elected governments and attacking alliance partnership. I would call it the most uncivilised political style. To have a foot in the door in Tamil Nadu after Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, they used the AIADMK. Their aim is to emerge as the main opponent of the DMK. Frankly speaking, yes, anything can happen after polls… But MLAs or ministers they purchase wouldn’t get them a space in people’s minds. Maybe one or two may go from any party. Next, in Tamil Nadu, the DMK may be the BJP’s target but they will finish AIADMK before that.

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