Rediff Logo News Find/Feedback/Site Index
August 25, 1999


E-Mail this interview to a friend

The Rediff Election Interview/ Dalit Ezhimalai

'I cannot take orders from every Tom, Dick and Harry'

It was a sad and tired Dalit Ezhimalai, the former minister in the Vajpayee government that Shobha Warrier met at his Thambaram home in suburban Madras.

After Dr Ramdoss of the Pattali Makkal Kachi denied him a ticket to contest the 1998 general election, he resigned from the Union ministry and the PMK in protest, and decided to join the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

You have been associated with the PMK from the very beginning.

I was the party's founder general secretary. The party was basically composed of the suppressed groups; the backward classes, the scheduled castes and the minorities.

But Vanniyars formed the predominant group in the PMK, didn't they?

May be. It is also a backward caste community, very badly marginalised educationally and in the employment sector. They were backward in several aspects. We have to be realistic to the existing factors and I am very much concerned about the backwardness of the backward class people. As a student of Periyar and Ambedkar, I had to contribute whatever that is possible on my behalf.

Therefore, I willingly joined the party when it was launched in 1989. Since then, I was there in the forefront in all the agitations.

It began as the Vanniyar Sangam. How did you become the founder general secretary of the Vanniyar Sangam?

Yes, it was called the Vanniyar Sangam then. In 1987 the Vanniyars were singled out and attacked when they launched a road roko agitation. I went on a tour and saw everything myself. That was how the association started.

When you were actually representing the dalits, did you have any difficulty in associating yourself with a party called the Vanniyar Sangam?

See, emancipation of the suppressed people is possible only through collective effort. The problems are similar to all. So, it is not possible for any community to take up the lead and declare that they are capable of winning freedom for a particular group. It is impossible. That is my understanding.

The Vanniyar Sangam is one association working for the betterment of the Vanniyars. But I represented the Dalit People Front, which was working for the betterment of the dalits. Like that, all the other backward communities came together and called it a federation of communities. This worked for 2, 3 years.

Then, in 1989, before the general election, the PMK was launched bringing all these associations together and allowing them to continue to do their work among their respective communities. All the representatives were made a part of the PMK when we decided to float a party.

I represented my people, Ramdoss represented his people, some Muslims represented their group, and some Christians were also there. It was a party for the scheduled class, the backward class and the minorities. Vanniyars may have been predominant, but every community was allowed to exist and continue their work.

We gave a common name the Pattali Makkal Kachi because we wanted to convey the message that all the communities in the party are suppressed. It was not Vanniyar Makkal Kachi or Dalit Makkal Kachi or Yadavar Makkal Kachi, it was the Pattali Makkal Kachi.

What were the differences you had with Dr Ramdoss? Why did you resign from the party? Was it only because you were denied a ticket to contest the election?

There are so many reasons. At the outset, if you feel that I was denied the ticket and therefore I rebelled -- yes, that is also a factor but not the whole factor. As a founder general secretary, a serving minister and a sitting member of Parliament in the dissolved Lok Sabha, I performed my job as a health minister in a wonderful manner. The President and prime minister also appreciated my work.

Going by the struggles and the onslaught that I faced while working within the party, nobody will say the behavior of the party leader was fair. It is not only unfair; it is unjust too. Have you seen anything like this anywhere else in the country? In a way, I was responsible for taking this party to the national scene. Even then, if you are denied a ticket, something else is there and it has to be questioned.

Dr Ramdoss told a press conference that you were required for party work. What do you think is the real reason behind denying you a ticket?

On the first of August, when the party's general body meeting was held in Madras, Dr Ramdoss said all the former members of Lok Sabha would be re-nominated because they served only 13 months. That was the commitment. Not only that, whatever Dr Ramdoss asked me to do as a minister, I had done it completely and perfectly well.

Whether it was collecting election funds or party work or policy-based activities, nobody could find fault with me. He himself admitted that I met all the commitments and targets and fulfilled all the responsibilities. Then, there is no reason for this turn around.

What do you think the reason for his dissatisfaction could be ?

I don't know. I feel the public and the countrymen have a right to know. Even when you kill a dog, you have to call it mad and then shoot it.

Did you ask him the reason?

He has no answer. He did not tell me. I told him, I am accountable to the community. I have to explain to the people. You have to tell me the reason.

What did he say?

He said, 'You have to take up party work.' I have been doing party work all these ten years. I was jailed, I was beaten up, I was tortured, I was harassed, I was marginalised. I opposed the governments and I became an anti-establishment symbol. I have suffered so much for the party. Even now I am the party general secretary and doing my work. So, you have to give me a reason for denying me the ticket.

If your son or wife or henchmen or somebody doesn't like me, I am not responsible for that. I can take orders from the leader, but I cannot take orders from every Tom, Dick and Harry.

How is it possible? A minister is accountable for what is happening under him in the ministry. He is answerable to Parliament and the people. I cannot be expected to take orders from everybody. It is not possible.

Did anyone pressurise you to do anything that you didn't want to?

Nowhere, this happens. The harassment, the torture, the troubles I faced in the last 6,7 months was too much. But I have not spoken about it at all till now. But I will open up at the appropriate time. It is too early to talk. I will give all the details one day. I am a Tamil and I have my roots here.

The general talk is that Dr Ramdoss and Vanniyar party workers are dissatisfied with you because you worked only for the betterment of the Dalits. Is there any truth in this?

It is unfortunate that people talk like this. Let me tell you, dalits and the tribals constitute around 25 per cent of India's population. But these people are not cared for by anybody. They are the uncared and the most wretched on the earth even today. When this is the ground reality, even if I take a little interest in attending to the needs of these people, you should appreciate that.

But actually it is not the fact. I have not taken any side. I don't have any friends in the Dalit community. All the people beginning from my driver to assistants to my personal secretaries are from the backward communities. So, this allegation is baseless, false, and unreasonable.

Was it a painful decision for you to leave a party with which you have been associated since its inception?

Of course, parting with the party you worked for since its inception, facing torture, suffering humiliation, shedding blood can only be painful. Finally when you are denied a legitimate claim, one feels sad. It is human nature. I am also a human being. Without any reason, things happened like that. You can't just suppress your feelings.

Why did you decide to join the AIADMK, a party that was responsible for the fall of the Vajpayee government in which you were a minister?

(Thinks for a long time) The ADMK is a regional party. In Tamil Nadu, there are only two parties and two forces. All the other parties have to come around these two parties. Among these two, the AIADMK invariably reflects the feelings and sufferings of the lowest of the low and the percentage of votes scored by them has consistently been maintained. It has not eroded at all. May be it was because of Dr MGR.

I am a Dalit and an activist. I am sure my services will be better utilised by the AIADMK than any other party.

G K Moopanar has started a third front and Dalit organisations like the Puthiya Thamizhagam are with this front. Why didn't you join Moopanar's front?

All these are just experiments. I wish them success, but it is going to be difficult because the major parties here are two, and one way or the other, the other parties have to come around them.

Do you think the AIADMK will offer you a ticket?

I am a political worker and people say my performance as a political worker, MP and minister was good. So, I feel I can do better things. If I am offered a ticket, I will take it.

In Tamil Nadu, the dominant forces were the Dravidian parties till recently. But now we see a lot of parties based on caste and caste playing a major role in bringing people together. Is this a good trend?

You are from Kerala. Kerala was the first state in the whole country to come out with caste groups claiming their share in the political cake. It was very good. Kerala is an educated state. There is no illiteracy there, still they have so many groups and all groups have a caste background. That means, education or literacy does not help people overcome their caste background.

Tamil Nadu is not an exception. Bihar is not an exception. The Hindu system itself is based on the ascending order of reverence and descending order of contempt. You can't just wish caste away as it is a fact and every caste has its own aspirations. You can't avoid it.

Caste clashes have become a regular affair in Tamil Nadu these days. It was not so earlier.

The more aware you are, the more assertive you become. And it leads to this kind of violence. If you just accept things lying down, there will be no trouble. Confrontation takes place when both hands clap. And confrontation also is inevitable.

Do you use the word Dalit with your name to show everyone that you came up the hard way?

Dalit means the suppressed, the crushed, and the humiliated. That single word represents the condition of dalits in India. I feel very proud to use the word Dalit with my name. Dalit means protest. Dalit means agitate. Dalit means resist. Dalit means react.

There was a time in Parliament, when people called somebody Panditji. That somebody was Jawaharlal Nehru. In recent times, everybody from the prime minister, the home minister and the defence minister called somebody Dalitji. And that somebody was me. So, a time has come for people to call a dalit, Dalitji!

The Rediff Election Interviews

Tell us what you think of this interview