People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 31, 2006
A Decade Old Bane Beaten Down
THOUGH the kind of democracy flowing through the elections to local bodies has been ensured to all the people in Tamilnadu, weaknesses in its implementation notwithstanding, it was totally denied to the dalits in four villages. The dalit people in Pappapatti and Keeripatti of Madurai district and Kottakachiyendal in Virudhunagar district have been suffering this ignominy since 1996 when the posts of panchayat president were reserved for the scheduled caste for 10 years.
Nattamangalam in Madurai disrict, which had the dubious honour of having a dalit president for a term of 5 years up to 2001, however, fell through in the subsequent term. Devious tactics were resorted to in order to keeping the post of president unfilled. Non-filling of nominations, withdrawal of the nominations on the last date, winning the elections but resigning the presidentship in the same breath --- these are such nasty tactics imposed by the dominant sections of non-dalits in these villages. This is how the grassroots democracy in the village was reduced to a farce.
While the situation had come to such a pretty pass, the successive state governments just kept their fingers crossed. They did not move beyond making some formal statements and taking some cosmetic actions here and there through the district administration under compulsion because of the law of the land. After all the situation was more than the denial of democratic rights to the dalit population; it was one in which the casteist feelings of supremacy sought to trample under feet the basic tenets of democracy, policies of social justice like reservation, and social values especially of mutual respect among the citizens of this country. Though the CPI(M) raised these issues and mobilised public opinion about them on every conceivable occasion, the AIADMK government did not evince any interest whatsoever in the last five years in remedying the situation. Rather, it did not have the political will to do it.
It is in this context that the subsequently elected DMK government came out with a notification for the local body elections in 2006, which said that in local bodies all the posts reserved for the SC/ST categories would be de-reserved on rotation basis. The CPI(M) immediately took an objection to it and demanded that there must be no de-reservation in the four said panchayats as they had not fulfilled the obligations of reservation. Programmes of actions were also announced. However, seeing reason in this argument, the DMK government reversed its decision and exempted these four panchayats from de-reservation. This the CPI(M), and other parties in the state assembly, welcomed.
This time the government was firm in seeing that the elections were conducted and presidents installed. The government supplemented the efforts of the district administration through positive political moves and dialogues with various interest groups. It was also prepared to checkmate those responsible for the decade long quagmire, if need arose.
This being an ideal background, the CPI(M) swung into action. The party committees, which already had live contacts with different sections of the backward classes and dalits in these villages, took up the electoral campaign in right earnest. On the previous occasions, elections to panchayat presidents alone took place. Now they took place for the ward members also. This came handy for preventing the “winning and resigning” drama enacted on earlier occasions.
For the elections to the president and ward member posts in the three panchayats (Papapatti, Keeripatti and Nattamangalam), some nominations were rejected with the result that some five candidates were elected unopposed. For the remaining seats, 44 candidates were in the fray. It is to be noted that 19 candidates were put up by the CPI(M). Baluchamy, supported by the CPI(M), got elected unopposed as president of the Keeripatti panchayat. Similar efforts were made by the party in Kottakatchiyendal in Virudhunagar district, with the successful completion of the democratic process in this village.
Apart from the Maduri district collector Udayachandran, leaders of political parties attended the ceremonies when the winners were sworn after elections, except for a single ward, were over. They included CPI(M) MP P Mohan, MP, and CPI(M) Madurai rural district committee secretary V Sundaram.
Later, the state government arranged a special celebration in Chennai to honour the elected representatives of all these four panchayats, while the CPI(M) organised a similar function at Madurai. The latter function was not only for the winners but for all the participants --- losers included. After all, they deserve all praise for reviving the process of democracy that had been neglected for one decade. Leaders including CPI(M) state secretary N Varadarajan and state secretariat members G Ramakrishnan and D Lakshmanan greeted the presidents of these panchayats.
The state government has decided to exempt these four panchayats from de-reservation.
One must note that the pro-active district administration made a notable contribution to the success of this decade long struggle.
It is also heartening to note that more than 100 members of dalit and OBC sections in these villages in Madurai district have since then joined the CPI(M). This is no chance occurrence but the culmination of a conscious movement organised by the party in these villages. It was a product of the kind of unity between the toiling sections, cutting across caste barriers, which the party seeks to build elsewhere in the country.