Deconstructing DMK MLA P Thiaga Rajan’s defence of Dravidian ideology

Sen. Kamala Harris, the vice president nominee of the American Democratic Party is half Indian. Sen. Harris’ mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris was born in Chennai Tamil Nadu to Tamilian Brahmin parents. This is causing some waves in social justice circles.

Columnist Sadanand Dhume wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal titled What Kamala Harris isn’t saying about her mother’s background in which he counts Tamil Brahmin achievers in USA like Sundar Pichai, Indira Nooyi, Nobel Prize winners Chandrashekar, Ramakrishnan and then goes on to say,

The identity entrepreneurs who dominate Tamilnadu politics justify reverse discrimination. 7 out of 10 college admissions and government jobs have long been filled using quotas on grounds of historical grievance. It’s undeniable that Tambrams had advantages, and many of their ancestors held views about social hierarchy that grates our modern sensibilities. Nonetheless, the communities marginalization and migration is also a text book example of pushing identity politics too far.

This take on Dravidian ideology in the WSJ seems to have triggered Dr. P Thiyaga Rajan, a DMK MLA representing Madurai Central who is an independent achiever himself. He boasts of a long family legacy of Dravidian politics starting with his grandfather PT Rajan who was a member of the Justice Party a precursor to the Dravidian movement.

Dr. P Thiyaga Rajan then wrote an article in the online portal The News Minute titled “Tamil Brahmin emigration was driven by opportunity not by socialism or identity politics”.

With this context behind us, lets examine the debate.

A few quick factual observations on Dhume’s article:

  • Outright quotas in Madras state start with the “First Communal G.O in 1921”
  • Pichai, Nooyi are the elite cream. It is more useful to focus on the emigration stories of the tens of thousands of ordinary Tamil brahmins emigrating within Bharat to places like Matunga in Bombay, Bangalore, Secunderabad, New Delhi etc.

Now PT Rajan makes the following rebuttal:

  • He hails from a background of elite landholders and is restricted now to the same quota category as the Tamil Brahmins.
  • Tamil Nadu provided the launch pad for these Tamil Brahmins to gain the qualifications to access US Higher Education, hence if cannot be said that Dravidians discriminated them.
  • All you have to do is to look at the development indicators like paved roads, health indices like mortality rate to see that Dravidian movement is effective.

These are all stratagems which carry no weight. His arguments are all fallacious but you need patience to scratch the surface to understand them. Often times these are not refuted clearly.

In short, the touch points are:

  1. Identity : Are upper castes identified by some metric other than identity?
  2. Invidious discrimination :  Are Tamil Brahmins subject to what is called “invidious discrimination” by the Dravidian state?  What is the topic of general discourse in Dravidian meetings? Who are their thought leaders today ?
  3. The development Red Herring:  Can a utilitarian argument be used to justify a social justice scheme? What kinds of arguments can be accepted?

The question of identity

Dravidian apologists have always struggled to portray their movement as a social justice movement of the oppressed against the elites. This, however was never the case from the very beginning. It was purely identity based and completely identity blind — at the same time.  How is that possible?

  • Dravidians created a pseudo-race based purely on identity basis  – everyone in Tamil Nadu except Tamil Brahmins are members of this race.
  • Once this division was done, they completely cover up the identities of the oppressors and the privileged in the inside group.

This pseudo racial category was then reconciled with the social justice reservation policy.  From 1921 until 1951 the Brahmins were capped  and using a distribution fallacy the benefits were cornered by the elite non-Brahmins.

The fallacy was that the Brahmins were disaggregated in this but the other elites like Mudaliars, Chetties, Pillais, Naidus were aggregated along with the really backward masses to produce the 72% population number.

The Provincial Backward Classes league was formed in 1934 to protest the distribution fallacy. They were no match, however, for the elite non Brahmin castes who did not accept their demands until 14 years later, then accommodated them with this formula

Hence, this early regime of Dravidians was in effect a simple transfer of positions from Tamil brahmins to the other elite castes. There is no social justice element to this at all. In a mere 2 years after the first Justice Party government in 1921, all sites of potential brahmin rigging had been neutralized – such as the Staff Service Commission a body that appointed jobs.

After independence, Article 15/16 required a ‘backward label’ in order to avail of these benefits. These elites now had to socially implicate themselves as “socially and educationally backward” – which they did. This act of self implication causes an extreme amount of resentment among the elite sections of Tamils because Tamil Brahmins never implicated themselves.

Regarding the actual caste categories, every caste has a synonym which is classified as backward. You can be saiva pillai (forward), tuluva vellala (backward), kondaikatti vellala (super elite forward), agamudaiyar (backward).  It isn’t hard to get certificate because only the Tamil Brahmins are face controlled, i.e., unambiguous.

This is trivially revealed in statistics about MBBS admissions. In 2013-14 only 5.1% of candidates who applied for MBBS were from the Forward Caste, in 2015-16 only 4.7%. Post NEET in 2017-18 it increased to a mere 8%. This means 92% to 95.3% of Tamil Nadu population is classified as backward. 

It cannot be argued that all the non Brahmin upper castes who were 22% in the 1947 GO today constitute only 2.7% to 5% of the Tamil Nadu population.

The toothpaste effect

If you squeeze one part of a tube of toothpaste, the paste moves and collects in the parts that you haven’t squeezed. This is the trick used by the Dravidians to hunt for parts of society where Tamil Brahmins can be found pooled.

Dravidians like PT Rajan have been pointing out Chartered Accountancy as an area where Tamil Brahmins are now pooled hence, that must be smashed next. I normally don’t like to take specific caste names but what about the places where Mudaliars  and Naidus are found pooled?

There is no rigging or face control in CA – why can’t the Dravidians compete? No complaint has been raised about this from anywhere else in the country. What is tragic is some poorer brahmin kids may be so demoralized into a position that medical and engineering are out of bounds hence, they take up what is seen as a alternate career.

Ironically this isolation of a single caste on pure identity basis is what Dhume is pointing out as a danger that other societies must be wary of. Another toothpaste example is the Dravidian lament that Brahmins are in IIT teaching jobs, but they never highlight the thousands of teaching jobs where their own elite castes are dominant.

Tamil Dravidians generously use irrelevant arguments like “but the Supreme Court has so many Brahmin judges”, “Delhi English media editors are brahmins” etc. They search for far off places of imbalance to hide their own distribution.

As far as the launchpad argument is concerned, Pichai benefited from the IIT system and Nooyi from the minority institutions. I think this is a specious argument.

The capping of opportunities created a surplus of qualified Tamil brahmins who did not have the luxury of alternate livelihood like the landed elite or mercantile castes (Chettiars, Balija Naidus). This caused migration to places like Mumbai due to private sector and Delhi due to Central Government opportunities. This is not necessarily a bad thing because the Indian Union offered this escape route and surpluses can be created in many ways.

The DMK Party has no brahmins

Dr. PT Rajan belongs to the DMK Party. This is a strong party with a wide cadre network, multiple stints in Tamil Nadu as ruling party, having major presence in Delhi too. Currently the third largest party after BJP and Congress (here I am counting the dummy TN congress MP as DMK).

This party does not admit Brahmins. I mean there is no official ban because that would violate the RPA laws, but there is a de-facto ban. This is quite unique. Dr. Rajan can be a member but I can’t. Hence, this is another example where Dr. PT Rajan is most certainly not in the same social identity category as the Tamil Brahmins. 

Invidious discrimination

The United States has an invidious discrimination doctrine. It is some action that “.. is treating a class of persons unequally in a manner that is malicious, hostile, or damaging”. There is a strong element of this in the Dravidian ideology vis-a-vis the Tamil Brahmins.

Outsiders will not appreciate the sheer hostility and malice that is seen in the Tamil political media day in and day out. In 2020, the state of the Tamil Brahmins in their homeland is pathetic. Both Dravidian parties, the AIADMK to a lesser extent, enforce a defacto political boycott of the Tamil Brahmins who have produced great statesmen and public leaders in the past.

The representation of Brahmins in State government jobs, universities, schools are negligible. The achievers like CV Raman, Ramanujan who contribute a major part to the bragging rights of the Tamil people are all but ignored in Tamil Nadu.

Inspite of this total dominance,  the vehemence of the attacks on Tamil Brahmins has increased rather than decreased. Why have the Dravidians not able to create their non Brahmin utopia even after 100 years? You can accuse the Tamil Brahmins of many things but they are completely innocent in that they do not and cannot impede the non Brahmin utopia.

Today DMK MPs use language like ‘Tamil Brahmin Dogs ..”. Their leaders like Suba Veerapandian run a propaganda campaign of outright lies, and half truths, and slander against the community. There are dozens of highly motivated full time individuals who are using social media to the hilt in spreading this venom. Non Tamils won’t be clued into this but those like me who are in Tamil language social media as well consider this as routine.

The Development Red Herring

Most of us are not trained to spot fallacious reasoning hence engage with them blindly. The development indicators are a red herring, that is they are irrelevant when discussing a social justice redistribution policy. South Africa had  first world infra and indicators during the apartheid regime, Cuba has very good health indicators today.

If this was the case, then United States does not even need to care about Black Lives Matter or even about the entire slavery saga. They can just show powerpoint comparing the United States to Sierra Leone.

Liberals should be alarmed at this red herring

True liberals in Bharat, if there are any, should be alarmed of these utilitarian arguments. It is dangerous to all minorities not just Tamil Brahmins. Particularly the Muslims and Christians need to watch out for the Dravidians here. You can take Dr. PT Rajan’s development arguments and re-use it in another context that can work against you.

What if invidious discrimination against Muslims result in no disastrous drop in Maternal Mortality Rate? Will that argument be accepted?  Similarly you can dis-privilege any other caste, say Chettiars, and at the same time increase the number of doctors graduated. I would certainly protest this type of rationale.

You have to abstract out these principles out of the narrow identity context.

What data is really needed ?

To really prove the Dravidian magic you have to show the representation data per disaggregated entity, the same way you disaggregate the Tamil Brahmins. Tamil Nadu has escaped scrutiny of its social justice foundation since the last commission in 1984. Politically, the model here is to keep this data as a golden goose under control of a ruling clique, then slowly chip away equity and give it to individuals and groups that demand to see it. Politics is about management of this central anomaly of non-measurement.

Why care about disaggregated data? Because the foundation premise of the Dravidian movement is that Tamil society was a period of darkness, extremely oppressive for 2500 years at the hands of the Tamil Brahmins.

If the inter-se differences between the groups inside the 97% are insignificant and if the balance 3%  are really not in an economically or politically dominant position, then this implies that Tamil society is already a social utopia.

To conclude, Dr. PT Rajan is probably just ashamed that the Dravidian ideology is now being exposed to the world via the Wall Street Journal.

(This article was first published on the author’s blog on 29th August, 2020 and is being reproduced here with permission, after minor edits to conform to HinduPost style-guide and improve readability.)


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