“The path towards social justice was not made in a day, but painstakingly laid over the decades, stone by stone, with sweat and blood of various trendsetters like Dr. Natesanar, Dr. T.M. Nair, Sir. P. Theagarayar, A.T. Paneerselvam, Panagal Arasar, Thanthai Periyar, Perarignar Anna, Kalaignar in Tamil Nadu, and Jyotirao Phule, B.R. Ambedkar, VP Singh in India. It was this heritage that made DMK take the cause of depressed societies to restore their rightful seats in medical education in all states and not just Tamil Nadu. To further continue our journey in the path to achieving the welfare of the depressed and oppressed, we need to implement Social Justice all over India. In this regard, we have planned to initiate an All India Social Justice Federation encompassing leaders and representatives of all oppressed sections of the society,” M.K. Stalin, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, said while proclaiming the formation of the All India Social Justice Federation on Republic Day, January 26, 2022.
History has been said to repeat itself. It was M. Karunanidhi, father of M.K. Stalin and the Dravidian stalwart, who put the idea of social justice against the Hindutva philosophy. During the end of the 1990s, Karunanidhi was instrumental in bringing up a grand alliance with the former Prime Minister of India, V.P. Singh at its helm and in the implementation of the recommendations by the Mandal Commission. When V.P. Singh sought recommendations from the states of the Indian Union to implement the Mandal report, Tamil Nadu under the leadership of Karunanidhi was the first state to lay out plans and suggestions in the emancipation of the OBCs. It is important to analyse the period when the Mandal Commission report was implemented. It was a time when the Hindutva movement was busy consolidating Hindus as one religion and othering the Muslims through the Ram Mandir campaign.
V.P. Singh struck the chord at the right moment which disturbed the very idea of the Hindu consolidation gimmick put forward by the Sangh Parivar. OBCs who were denied rightful representation in public education and employment were consolidated as Hindus by the Sangh Parivar against the minority Muslims and Christians. V.P. Singh made sure that the reservations for OBCs included backward communities among Muslims and Christians. Though this move cost V.P. Singh the powerful Prime Ministerial berth, it kept the Sangh Parivar at bay for almost two decades till 2014. This particular move changed the total arithmetic of the Hindutva consolidation. OBCs rose to power, not only in other political parties but also in BJP.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, hailing from an OBC background and being a full-time RSS Pracharak, became the Messiah of the Hindu masses which can also be considered as an indirect effect of the rise of OBCs through Mandal implementation. There have also been various reasons for the rise of Hindu nationalist populism like the destruction of Babri Masjid, 1991 Liberalization, Kargil War, 2002 Gujarat carnage, and many others.
The main agenda of Sangh Parivar during the Mandir movement was to create a false sense of “equality” among the unequal within the Hindu religion through consolidation and the othering of Muslims. After BJP won the polls in the late 1990s, the agenda shifted towards their main plan of action – The nation-building of Hindu Rashtra. V.P.Singh, along with Karunanidhi and other Bahujan leaders, defeated the Sangh Parivar’s trojan horse during the Consolidation era. Now M.K. Stalin has laid out plans to destroy the ultranationalist Hindutva regime, with the same plan put by his father.
In Hindu consolidation, DMK, under M.K. Stalin, has considerably lost and has been playing a mere defendant to BJP and RSS’ rhetorics. But on the other hand, the plan of building Hindu Rashtra has been shattered with the latest announcement by M.K. Stalin. The Sangh Parivar could employ all of its strategies to make Stalin’s recent proclamation not see the light of the day. Mandal movement was about empowering the OBCs against the fake consolidation put forward by the upper castes in RSS. Now the All India Social Justice Federation is about preserving federalism and ensuring social justice, being both tenets destroyed during the Modi regime.
DMK has always raised its voice for the protection of state autonomy. It was Karunanidhi who constituted the Rajamannar Committee in 1969 to examine the Union-State relations and grant utmost autonomy to the states within the Indian Union. Rajamannar Committee report was submitted in 1971 and the recommendations it put forward could still cause nightmares to the national parties. Subsequently, DMK was divided into two as M.G.Ramachandran, the Cinema Star in DMK, chose to quit to form a new party named Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. M.G. Ramachandran started a new political party with the help of the then Delhi regime. State autonomy and federalism are so crucial subjects that every other party never put forward because of the chances of being framed as separatists.
Stalin is now carrying the light to promote federalism and social justice – a mixture of both the ideas behind forming the Rajamannar Committee and the Mandal Commission. After swearing in as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Stalin chose the word `Union’ Government to convey his replies to the wishes sent to him from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. The usage of `Union’ Government, instead of `Central’ Government, created debates in Tamil Nadu and there was a hullabaloo among the Tamil Nadu BJP.
OBC students, all over India, has now been placed under the All India Quota for medical seats under the NEET examination, thanks to DMK which won the case against the Union Government at the Supreme court. In this long legal battle, DMK fought all alone to preserve social justice for every student all over India. DMK has been fighting that the NEET examination is against state autonomy and federalism with all its might within the given limited powers that it holds.
All India Social Justice Federation, the idea put forward by M.K. Stalin, can be expected to be the game-changer during the Hindutva regime, like the previous Mandal movement. With BJP in power, with egoist leaders at its helm, there are multiple ways that this movement could be jeopardized. But the very idea carries the light of hope, which can be translated in Tamil to `Vidiyal‘, the theme of DMK during the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections 2021.
When V.P. Singh lost his power after implementing the Mandal Commission recommendations, the-then DMK leader Karunanidhi invited him for a statewide tour to honour him. During the tour, multiple rallies were conducted in various districts. In one such rally, the old guard Left leader EMS Namboodaripad said, `People are used to having a victory rally when someone comes to power. But here, in Tamilnadu, there is a rally to celebrate a person even though he has lost power. This shows not just the character of V.P Singh, but also the courage displayed by Karunanidhi. I am aware of the danger this move could lead to.”
Around 30 years later, Stalin, the son of Karunanidhi, has displayed the same courage.
Mandal movement could be the first dose of vaccine against the Hindutva pandemic; there were other developments during the UPA regime which were the second dose of vaccine against the Hindutva pandemic. Now with the pandemic at its peak and various variants of Hindutva emerging, M.K. Stalin has chosen social justice and federalism as the booster against the prevailing pandemic. This may or may not work, but still, it holds the ray for hope against the prevailing Hindutva pandemic.
Ilyas R Muhammed is a Chennai based journalist and writer.