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Our self-respect was surely also self-determination – Understanding Dravidian politics in the times of Hindutva

Our self-respect was surely also self-determination – Understanding Dravidian politics in the times of Hindutva

elections corona

Vinith Kumar

[This is part 1 of a series of essays on Dravidian politics today and its historical roots.]

There are pessimists who say that there is no guarantee that victory will be followed by a New Order. There is perhaps room for this pessimism. The New Order, which is the ideal of labour, has its roots in the French Revolution. The French Revolution gave rise to two principles—the principle of self government and the principle of self-determination. The principle of self-government expresses the desire of the people to rule themselves rather than be ruled by others, whether the rulers be absolute monarchs, dictators, or privileged classes. It is called ‘democracy’. The principle of self-determination expresses the desire of a people united by common ideals and common purposes to decide, without external compulsion, its political status—whether independence, interdependence, or union with other peoples of the world. This is called nationalism. The hope of humanity was centred on the fructification of these principles. Unfortunately, after a lapse of nearly 140 years, these principles have failed to take root. The old regime has continued either in all its nakedness or by making sham concessions to these two principles. Barring a few countries, there was neither self-government nor self determination in the world. All this, of course, is true. But this is no argument against the attitude taken by labour—namely, that the preliminary condition for the establishment of the New Order is victory over the forces of Nazism. All that this means is that Labour must be more vigilant and that the war must not stop with victory over Nazis, but there must be no peace unless there is victory over the Old Order wherever it is found.

Dr. Ambedkar, BAWS vol 10, Why Indian Labour is Determined to Win the War

Democracy in the middle of a pandemic  

Now that the dust has settled on TN elections, it is safe to assume that one won’t be called the BJP’s B team. Although, the risk of being called a communist still runs wild.

elections corona

Anyway, the North-Indian fan base that DMK has garnered during these elections has paved the way for quite the turn in Indian politics, wouldn’t you say? A party that was left to the ‘regional’ status has become a point of discussion for all those indulging in anti-BJP politics. It has become somewhat of a model for their North-Indian fanbase, a model to fight fascism. If not anything, it’s interesting how AAP has come to be the face of welfare politics in India while both the AIADMK and DMK’s history of welfare politics have become tangled with liquor-economy arguments. Interests aside, the DMK cadres and sympathizers need to consider a serious question, one of their spectatorship in this great Indian cricket match that was this election in TN. And surely, one needs to be sensitive to the issue of BJP coming to power in TN because nobody wants that. But one needs to consider the times in which these elections were conducted.

On the 6th of April, when TN went to vote, the state registered around 3645 new cases (data from CSSE Covid data repository, John Hopkins). I do not want to enter an academic discussion about how many died, whether they died because of mismanagement (because they did) or oxygen shortage, etc. We simply want to point out that the pandemic was (and is) very real, at least for those who were affected by it. It was very real for the people who were forced to walk back to their villages, it was very real for the workers who were murdered on those trains, it was very real for the families who starved, it was very real for those who lost livelihoods and it was surely surreal for those who battled it out in India’s hospitals.

The DMK and the LDF both decided to contest these elections at a time when the pandemic was ruining livelihoods, while it was killing people. Large rallies were being held, thousands of people gathering in every single one of them. Eloquent rhetoric was being presented as thousands clapped and cheered on. The only parallel I can find is with the IPL. India’s cricket gods battled it out while the people were being killed. What was interesting though was that activists found these IPL matches insensitive and not these elections.

The BJP had no reason to boycott these elections, right? They were the ones engineering the deaths of all these workers. They thrive on elections, they derive their power from these elections as much as they derive it from Ayodhya.

But what about the DMK? What about the LDF? What about those anti-fascist groups? What about the Indian left?

Let me start with the Indian Left.. They have proved yet again that they are but a stupid reactionary force. And to be more polite, they are the ruling class that they pretend to fight. We don’t want to invest much in explaining to readers our position. A lot has been said about the left. But just take a look at their political trajectory since the pandemic broke out and that should paint a more or less familiar picture of the Indian Left.

Lockdown (Modi action) – Opposed lockdown (left reaction)

UAPA (Modi action) – Free political prisoners (left reaction)

Elections (Modi and EC action) – Oppose BJP in election (left reaction)

Second wave (Modi action) – Accusations of mismanagement (left reaction)

Vaccine scam (Modi action) – Oppose vaccine scam (left reaction)

The left seems to have simply become the Tom in Tom and Jerry, chasing after the fascist forces every chance they get.

But other large parties like the DMK also went to work against the BJP. Their candidates were on the streets gathering people to hear their war cries. Stalin, who has been so vocal about the lack of proper administration in the state of TN during the pandemic, conveniently forgot about the pandemic during the elections. In his speech in the State Assembly on the 25th of June, Stalin gave us some numbers indicating that it was under AIADMK’s rule that the second wave intensified. There are a few key statistics that we want to emphasize from his speech. On the 26th of February, when the elections were announced, the state registered 481 new cases (coincides with data from CSSE). He pointed out that they (AIADMK) were warned of the second wave on the 6th of March and that the state registered 562 new cases on the 6th of March. And when the state went to vote on the 6th of April, a month later, the numbers almost multiplied 10 times with the state registering 3645 new cases. And on the day of counting, i.e., May 2nd, the state registered 19588 (according to Stalin’s numbers).

Now, Stalin argued that the numbers intensified under AIADMK rule, leaving out the crucial question of how they intensified. Despite early warnings and the cases steadily increasing, ALL parties that contested the elections were campaigning full-fledged. They went house to house, street to street, they were addressing gatherings (of thousands) and were infecting people with their rhetoric and COVID-19.

The DMK government that came to power, soon after announced a lockdown in the state from the 10th of May, extended with minor changes till the 5th of July. Surely, the DMK government controlled the spread after they came to power, they even vaccinated people with all their might, but one shouldn’t forget that all this was done at the cost of some people’s livelihood and at the cost of actual lives.

Pinarayi Vijayan and his government, who had emerged as heroes in these trying times, who have been ever-so-sensitive to the pandemic, who have promised to vaccinate every person in the state of Kerala for free, also played this election game. How does it make sense that this government (LDF) that became so popular world-over for its fight against the pandemic during the first wave is now okay allowing people to gather in the name of elections?

Let’s say that these large parties are compelled to do all this. After all their functioning is dependent on them contesting these elections. How else will money move from party to cadre? How else will money flow from the party to the voter? How else will they assume power?

But what about civil society groups? What about the anti-fascist groups? Why couldn’t they see that people are eventually going to die if they participate in these elections?

The Madras High Court has accused the election commission of murder. They asked if the EC lived on another planet. It’s hard to imagine that the courts of India are more sensible than these parties and groups put together, no?

According to the ECI, 60032663 people voted in the assembly elections in West Bengal, 837543 people voted in the Puducherry elections, and 19315846 people voted in the Assam elections.

Only these have been released as of now but it’s not hard to imagine the numbers for other states too based on the voter turnouts that have been released. An astounding number of people participated in these elections.

According to an unverified report, around 30 odd lakh people were in the Kumbh this year. Compared to the numbers who went to polling stations, this number is not so troubling.

And so one is forced to ask, how is the Kumbh different from these elections? In fact, more people have gathered across the subcontinent in the festival of democracy than they did for the Kumbh. And so, if the Kumbh was a super-spreader event, so were these elections. They were not just the super-spreaders of the corona virus but also the ‘India’ virus, of insensitivity to human life, of negligence for livelihood, and so on and so forth.



Vinith Kumar is a member of the Core Team of Ambedkar Reading Group, Dehradun.