PWA should have aligned with DMK to keep AIADMK away: Thiruma



The People’s Welfare Alliance made a strategic mistake by taking on the DMK and AIADMK at the same time. The alliance along with DMDK and TMC should have tied up with the DMK to keep the AIADMK away from power. By doing this, the combine could have weakened the DMK by forcing it to accept a coalition government and defeated the AIADMK at ease, says VCK chief Thol Thirumavalavan.

In an exclusive interview with E.T.B. Sivapriyan, the Dalit leader says the concept for an alternative front in Tamil Nadu remains as relevant as it was before the elections, but only time will decide its future. Here are the excerpts:

Q: The PWA-DMDK-TMC alliance popularly known as the Third Front suffered a humiliating defeat. How do you react to this kind of verdict from the public?

A: In fact a defeat of this magnitude is shocking to us. We projected ourselves as an alternative to the Dravidian majors who have been ruling the state for the past 50 years. We had very little time to reach out to the people since our alliance was formalized only on April 9 after the Tamil Maanila Congress joined. Main reason why we did not succeed is that we were not well prepared like the Dravidian parties who have the experience of working for the elections. And we lacked the money power which the rival fronts possessed. But we still think there is some space for a third force or third front in Tamil Nadu politics. I think, in hindsight, it was a wrong strategy to have taken on both DMK and AIADMK at the same time.

Q: Was it a mistake on the part of the PWA to have waited for DMDK so long? Your doors were kept open for Vijayakant till the last minute. Don’t you think it is a wrong decision?

A: No, not at all. We wanted the DMDK to join our front since we thought the four parties – MDMK, VCK, CPI, CPI(M) – alone cannot take on the Dravidian majors. I accept that DMK and AIADMK are two major forces in Tamil Nadu and to take on them or to challenge them, we needed another major political party and that is the reason why we waited for the DMDK. After the DMDK joined our front, we had just about a month for election campaign. Though the People’s Welfare Alliance held four rounds of campaign to create awareness among the people about an alternative front before poll dates were announced, we did not have much time for election campaigning. Campaign is the crucial part of elections and we did not have much time in reaching the people.

Q: You said it was a wrong strategy to have taken on both the Dravidian majors at the same time. Could you please explain in detail?

A: Yes it was a wrong strategy. If we had to defeat AIADMK, we (DMDK-PWA-TMC) should have joined the DMK and fought the elections. It is a known fact that both parties have giant strength in the state. Joining a giant force to defeat another could have been the only strategy. I think the emergence of DMDK-PWA-TMC united both the DMK and AIADMK in ensuring that we fail. And I feel our alliance’s strength was the only reason for DMK and AIADMK to pump in huge sums of money into this election. The amount of money spent in the three VIP constituencies of R K Nagar, Thiruvarur and Kolathur is more than what we spent in the entire state. Both parties feared that we would cut into their votes and decided to defame us. The DMK went one step ahead and called us the B-Team of AIADMK. That allegation sounded the death knell for us. We were not able to win over the allegation and abuses hurled at by us by the DMK.

Q: Are you coming to say that the PWA-DMDK-TMC alliance should have tied up with the DMK?

A: The idea of Third Front is still relevant. We decided to oppose both parties since both of them are corrupt and have contributed in the liquor sales in the state. So the logic was that we should oppose both parties and maintain equidistance from both of them. But in hindsight I feel we, meaning DMDK-PWA-TMC, could have aligned with the DMK and forced it to form a coalition government. If six parties had joined the DMK, the party could have contested in only 100 or a little more than 100 seats leaving the rest to alliance partners. If that had happened, we could have brought a coalition government, weakened DMK’s position substantially and defeated the AIADMK. We could have achieved these three things at one go.

Q: By this frank analysis, are you conceding that Third Front was a failure?

A: We attempted to give an alternative to the people of Tamil Nadu and there is definitely space for the Third Front. We have not lost our relevance. We tried to bring all like-minded parties together to fight against corruption and liquor in the state. It did not work this time. But it does not mean the idea has failed. The idea and the concept is as relevant today as it was before election.

Q: Do you regret aligning with the PWA and eventually with DMDK and TMC?

A: There is no question of regret. Future of any political party or an individual does not depend on the results of one election. Several political leaders who were written off bounced back within no time. MGR lost the 1980 Lok Sabha polls so badly, but he bounced back within months by capturing power in the Assembly elections. Even Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa herself lost Assembly elections in 1996. Did not she bounce back and come back to power? One can’t write off political parties based on the results of one election.

Q: You are one of the prominent leaders of the Dalit community and don’t you think your identity has been lost this election?

A: My work does not depend on my designation. The Dalit community needs me and I need the Dalit community. Working for the betterment of the community is a job that remains permanent. Elections are only a part of the work that I and VCK do. We contest elections only in the hope that political power would us achieve things that we are fighting for. Dalit community will never lose faith in me and no leader can do the kind of work that I and my party do. My work will not affect because of the setback that my party received this election. Our journey will continue. AIADMK which received maximum support from Dalits has not given adequate representation to the community. Instead they have given enough representation to the communities which look down on Dalits.

Q: Your arch-rival PMK showed the political courage to contest alone by announcing a Chief Ministerial candidate. Why did not you muster the courage?

A: PMK practices complete caste politics. Worst thing that can happen in politics is getting votes by instigating people in the name of caste. The PMK was the first party to have announced that they will be an alternative to the Dravidian parties. In fact, PMK is the real B-Team of the AIADMK since they have eaten into the anti-AIADMK votes. They are the real B-Team. If the PMK had contested with the DMK, the DMK would have come to power. The amount of money that PMK spent this election raises several questions. Their politics is completely based on casteist approach and I will never indulge in such brand of politics.

Q: Despite being a Dalit party, why is that you are hesitant to demand that a member from your community become Chief Minister. A demand was made by one of your MLA, but that became just a point of debate. Why are you hesitant?

A: The society is not matured enough. It is not the right time. Socio-political structure of the state is not prepared to (accept a Dalit CM). Candidates of DMK and AIADMK who contested against me in Kattumannarkoil are also Dalits. But villages where majority of the people are non-Dalits welcomed only them, not me. They pelted stones at me. The society has not matured enough.

(The Interview was recorded in May, 2016 immediately after the Assembly election results were made public)


The rise, rise and the grand fall of Mahinda Rajapaksa



History has come a full circle for the tiny island of Sri Lanka in just a decade. It was the boycott of the Sri Lankan Presidential election in 2005, roughly 10 years ago, by Tamils living in the then war zone of Northern Province, blindly following the diktat of the ever-feared LTTE’s Velupillai Prabhakaran, which spawned the victory of the then light weight and little-known Mahinda Rajapaksa over a moderate Ranil Wickramasinghe.

Nearly ten years later and six years after the end of the bloody civil war that consumed more than 70,000 lives including that of Prabhakaran and his senseless cadre who mercilessly bombed civilians to escape the onslaught of the Sri Lankan Army, it is the same Tamils who have now ensured the decisive defeat of Rajapaksa in the 2015 Presidential Elections through their overwhelming participation in the democratic exercise.

If the LTTE had allowed the Tamils to vote in the 2005 Presidential elections, Rajapaksa would have never been able to make it to Temple Trees, the official residence of the President of Sri Lanka. By not allowing the Tamils to vote in favour of Wickramasinghe, the megalomaniac Prabhakaran dug his own grave.

His calculation that Rajapaksa would be a weak President went horribly wrong and he became his biggest nemesis, finally taking his life, which was once considered precious by Tamils across Sri Lanka.

The decade went by saw the lightweight Rajapaksa transforming into a soft dictator, amassing unparallel power and wealth besides defeating the once all powerful Tamil Tigers with the help of a ruthless Sarath Fonseka, the Army General who led the commanders from the front in ensuring that terrorism is buried once for all in the island.

After the war, Fonseka challenged Rajapaksa in the 2010 Presidential Polls, which he eventually lost and found himself behind the bars for alleged treachery.

As if to undo the historic blunder they committed a decade back, Tamils in the north and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka came out in droves on Thursday to ensure that Rajapaksa bites the dust in the epic polls to none other than his former colleague Maithripala Sirisena, who defected to the Opposition side at the last minute and entered the fray as a common Opposition candidate.

And the overwhelming participation of Tamils in this election demonstrates yet another fact that the minorities have learnt their lesson that ballot is powerful than a bullet. That Tamils were upset with Rajapaksa could just be an understatement, as the entire community believes that he failed in integrating them back with the mainstream after the historic defeat of the LTTE in 2009.

Rajapaksa had then promised to build bridges with the minority Tamils but little did people in the north knew he will just bridge the distance between north and south by constructing world-class roads, further alienating the Tamils from the mainstream as it took four long years for the Government to conduct provincial elections in the north. Other promises still remain on paper.

Tamils no longer want Eelam (separate homeland) having burnt their fingers heavily especially after having suffered from the double-barrel attack by both Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE. What they want is genuine devolution of powers to the province that would allow the local government to cater to the needs of the people without having to get orders from the federal administration that operates from far-away Colombo. What they want is genuine reconciliation with the Sinhalese and the right atmosphere for co-existence.

In a few months from now, Sri Lanka will celebrate six years of the victory over the once powerful LTTE, which controlled one-third of the country running its own parallel government, but the Tamils in the north and eastern provinces still wait for justice and honourable political settlement that will genuinely address their concerns.

The wait has undoubtedly been long and a harrowing experience for the minority community that has faced unimaginable violence at the hands of both sides. The Tamil community in Sri Lanka acknowledge the bitter fact that Prabhakaran’s Tigers unleashed senseless violence at the end to save them and their leaders killing the very own people for whom they claimed to have taken the gun.

An overwhelming vote against Rajapaksa does not necessarily mean it was in favour of Sirisena, who appears to follow the policies of his predecessor when it comes to deployment of Army in civilian areas in Northern Province. It is just an anti-Rajapaksa vote.

If Sirisena genuinely believes in reconciliation and betterment of Tamils, he should first reduce the presence of Army personnel in Northern Province and cooperate with India in implementing the 13th Amendment plus formula that minorities believe would address their genuine political aspirations.

Another confidence measure that would satisfy Tamils would be implementation of the promise to abolish Executive Presidency that would revert executive powers back to the Prime Minister.

Wickramasinghe becoming the prime minister could have weighed heavily on the mind of Tamils when they voted for Sirisena. Tamils have always believed and still believe that Wickramasinghe has a soft corner for them and fondly remember the efforts he took in reaching a ceasefire between the Sri Lankan Government and LTTE in 2001.

The near unanimous support of Tamils to Sirisena has now allowed Wickramasinghe to have a shot at power once again through a backdoor entry. All the powers are now vested with Wickramasinghe and not Sirisena, who was supported by majority of the Opposition parties.

The defeat of Rajapaksa would make sense only when the new dispensation takes efforts to assuage the feelings of the minorities and helps them in finding a solution to the ethnic question. Sirisena should realise that the mandate was against Rajapaksa and was not a vote in favour of him.

Will Sirisena and Wickramasinghe heal the wounds of Tamils? Only time can answer.

(The writer is a journalist with Deccan Chronicle-Asian Age. He has closely followed the civil war and developments in Sri Lanka thereafter.)