20 September, 2020

Caste Over Tamil Pride

Dravidian politics was universal, at least in theory. The Thevar rise changes the grammar.

Caste Domino
Powerful middle castes have always been brutal in their social assertion. The 1997 anti-Dalit ­violence in Karisalkulam
Photograph by Getty Images
Caste Over Tamil Pride

On the face of it, everything appeared smo­oth after the passing away of J. Jayalalitha. There was grief but no viole­nce, of the sort seen after AIADMK founder M.G. Ramach­andran died in Dece­mber 1987—and almost expected as an ingr­ained reflex. The power transition went off without any visible friction. Jayalalitha was dead at around 11:30 pm on December 5; the new ministry led by O. Panneersel­vam took charge by 1:30 am on December 6. Theories around the secrecy and mystery surrounding Jayalalitha’s death did make the rounds later, but appreciation was pouring in from all quarters for the state administration for ‘handling it well’.

But that’s on the surface. In reality, with Jayalalitha’s exit, Tamil Nadu may have inadverten­tly emb­a­rked on its biggest political experiment yet—and it could mean a huge, historical shift in the state’s political character. Panneerselvam would not just be the first Thevar chief minister of the state since indepe­ndence or perhaps even before, he...



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