'The fact that Thambidurai, belonging to a dominant community, can claim himself to be a victim of historical wrongs is a big problem. He quotes Ambedkar and appropriates the sufferings of the Dalits. But nobody sees anything amiss in that, and that is the bigger problem,' says V Subbulakshmi
The AIADMK leader has never been a victim of anything. Nobody knows how many educational institutions Thambidurai owns. By conservative estimates, he has three big colleges, including one a deemed university (now this tag is not there) under a minority community name, even though he does not outwardly belong to that community.
His wife, a medical doctor, is the chairperson of the colleges run by him. His colleges have faced allegations of trying to appropriate land meant for water bodies. His daughter too is a doctor and is married into a former Congress MLA family.
Thambidurai went to the popular and prestigious Madras Christian College in the 60s. A college that boasts of alumni like former President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, former finance ministers, RK Shanmukham Chetty, and TT Krishnamachari, and former railway minister John Mathai.
He is from the Kongu Vellalar caste, one of the most politically and culturally powerful denominations in the state, dominating the Western part. It is the same caste that the chief minister of the state belongs to and has several many powerful ministers as representatives in the state cabinet.
Thambidurai has also been a Union minister. He has been, and is, the Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha. He was a minister in the TN cabinet (handling the powerful portfolio of education when he was also running several colleges in the state).
Ladies and gentlemen, this is M Thambidurai, who, just the other day in the Lok Sabha during the discussions on the 10% reservation policy, declaimed, "We are called Shudras. We are the lowest in society. I am a Shudra and I am proud to be called a Shudra. Being Shudras, we have suffered a lot."
The thing is, neither he nor his community has a record of suffering a great deal. The Kongu Vellalars -- Gounders in popular parlance -- were 'forward caste', and were shifted to 'backward class' in 1975, following wide-spread demand from the community.
More recently, as per crime statistics in the state, this is one of the communities that top Dalit attacks.
This is not to demonise the community. For it has also produced many industrialists, academicians, and artistes who, apart from excelling in their fields, have also been philanthropic individuals. The hard work of Gounders, in general, have enriched Tamil Nadu in industrial and farming sectors.
The point, however, is Gounders have historically not been a 'backward caste'. In any case, they have not faced social and cultural discrimination like the Dalits and other communities.
"The problem in Tamil Nadu is the sufferings of the really oppressed have been appropriated by intermediary groups that have not endured any great discrimination," says V Subbulakshmi of the Centre for South Indian Cultural Studies.
"By the 60s and 70s, they smartly assembled themselves as blocks that would appeal to the vote-gathering sensibilities of politicos. Many of the OBCs made it to the list in that period," Subbulakshmi added.
In other words, they had cracked the game of organised vote-bank politics. That is why you have 69% reservation in Tamil Nadu when the ceiling for reservations all over the country has been pegged at 50%.
Subbulakshmi's point is echoed by RB Sivasailam, an academic, who says the line between caste and class is important but is often not there. Even the acronym OBC itself is Other Backward Classes. "The Constitution does recognise the OBCs as those educationally and socially backward. But those who are in the backward classes list seem to have elbowed out the real backward castes and the SC/STs when it comes to garnering the benefits of government schemes and reservations," Sivasailam said.
"The fact that Thambidurai, belonging to a dominant community, can claim himself to be a victim of historical wrongs is a big problem. He quotes Ambedkar and appropriates the sufferings of the Dalits. But nobody sees anything amiss in that, and that is the bigger problem," says Subbulakshmi.
The clip of his speech has gone viral and has been applauded by many. "Thambidurai's words trivialises what Dalits have undergone for decades. His words are symptomatic of the lop-sidedness in Dravidian politics," Sivasailam says.
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Last Updated Jan 17, 2019, 12:08 PM IST