For whom the Pattali Makkal Katchi and its leader S Ramadoss fought for was never ambiguous. The issue has only been about who they fought against. As Ramadoss went about herding a group of caste Hindus against Dalit politics, the debate has been firmly on this. But after three district collectors prohibited his entry, it has become bigger to include elements of freedom of expression and executive overreach, as well as means to contain communal politics.
It is crisis of existence that has made the PMK fall back on its roots, politics of the community. As part of this, it has strung together caste Hindu outfits on their common opposition to Dalits. These backward classes and most backward classes comprise an influential bloc of intermediary castes which consider themselves superior to Dalits, even as they claim to be victims of oppression so as to benefit from the reservation system. Ramadoss faced a barrage of criticism for calling love marriages between caste Hindu girls and Dalit boys a drama scripted by Dalit leaders, and for seeking amendment to the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. While the AIADMK remained silent, some said it was due to the influence caste Hindus have in the party.
Then came the orders by collectors of Ramanathapuram, Madurai and Cuddalore barring Ramadoss’s entry, citing threat to communal harmony. The Ramanathapuram and Madurai ban orders were greeted with silence, but by the time the Cuddalore collector’s order came, other parties had woken up to the threat such actions bore to their own activities and interests.
If DMK chief M Karunanidhi’s criticism of the ban was unexpected, more surprising was a similar reaction from the leader of Dalit party VCK, Thol Thirumavalavan MP. Karunanidhi supported his constant baiter’s fundamental freedom to express, adding that the government was intimidating opponents. Thirumavalavan charged the state with indirectly encouraging Ramadoss and his ilk instead of initiating legal action.
Beyond these reasons, the leaders seem to have understood the danger of the executive calling the shots. This is especially true when the AIADMK is ruling the state. A senior journalist once jocularly said that when Jayalalithaa is in power, the collectors and superintendents are the de facto district secretaries of the party. Ramadoss’s casteism is clearly more political than communal. The state’s reaction should also be political, supplemented by legal measures and implemented by the executive.
Gopu is principal correspondent based in Chennai