Is Thirumavalavan playing the Panchami land card to checkmate Stalin?

DMK, Thol Thirumavalavan, VCK, patta, MK Stalin
While it was MDMK chief Vaiko who first alleged that Arivalayam, the office of DMK's mouthpiece Murasoli was built on Panchami land, VCK made similar allegations later. Photo: PTI

DMK chief Stalin’s praise for the recently-released film Asuran which talks about the Panchami farmlands given to Dalits by the British in the 1930s seems to have boomeranged on him, with many alleging that Arivalayam, the party’s office and the land on which the office of the party’s mouthpiece Murasoli stands is a Panchami land itself.

Even though Stalin had a verbal duet with Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founder Dr. S Ramadoss, soon after he lauded the film for aptly addressing the issue of Panchami land issue, a video of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) leader Thol Thirumavalavan slamming the DMK, over Panchami land have worsened matters. The video that spread on social media like wildfire, has been damaging for the DMK, especially when the VCK is in alliance with it.

It shows Thirumavalavan stating that the Tamil Nadu government should take steps to retrieve the Panchami lands on which the Siruthavur Bungalow of former AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa and the Arivalayam office of the DMK have been built.

In an interview with a Tamil magazine, the VCK, however, clarified that he never mentioned ‘Arivalayam’ in his speech. Later it was also found that the video was an old one which was shot much before the alliance was formed.

Talking to the magazine, Thirumavalavan said he had only urged the present government to reinstate the Maruthamuthu Commission set up by the DMK government in 2011 to investigate irregularities in Panchami land allocation.

“If the commission comes into force, it would be clear whether the two buildings were built on Panchami land,” he had said.

VCK in the frontline

Inadvertently or not, the allegations, coming from the VCK which has always espoused the cause of retrieving the Panchami lands, has put the party on the frontline again, giving it an edge over ally DMK, say experts.

“The VCK on October 10 this year built a memorial pillar on the 25th death anniversary of John Thomas and Elumalai, who died in police firing at a village in Karanai, Chengalpattu district during the Panchami land reclamation struggle,” says, Chengalpattu-based lawyer A Ashok, also the founder of JHA Tremenheere Foundation, which was established in memory of Tremenheere, the British officer who created Panchami lands.

But, it was the speech by then VCK general secretary D Ravikumar, in the Assembly that goaded the M Karunanidhi government to form a commission headed by Justice M Maruthamuthu, in 2011, to retrieve Panchami lands.

“The creation of the commission itself defeats the allegations that Arivalayam is located on Panchami land,” says Ravikumar. “If Arivalayam was located on Panchami land, why would Karunanidhi set up such a commission? And if the claim was true, why didn’t the commission take any action? Also, what was the reason for the Jayalalithaa government to terminate the commission?” he asked.

Ravikumar says the state government during Jayalalithaa’s regime had issued a GO asking all the district administrations to identify Panchami lands across the state. The Maruthamuthu Commission had identified around 12 lakh acres of Panchami land. “All the records of these lands are being maintained separately since the British period till now. So, there will be no difficulty in identifying these lands. All the political parties including Ramadoss are in favour of implementing the commission’s recommendations. Then why is the government hesitating to take action in this regard?” asked Ravikumar, who has penned a book on the history of Panchami land.

The BJP too has chipped into the spat between the DMK, PMK, and VCK. One of the party’s state secretaries Prof Srinivasan, wrote a letter to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) on October 21, seeking an investigation on this issue. Reports say the NCSC, in turn, sent a communication to the Chief Secretary on October 22 asking him to submit the facts and information regarding the allegation within a week.

Genuine concern or political vendetta?

But, it was Vaiko, the chief of Marumalarachi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) who first alleged that Arivalayam was built on Panchami land, says Srinivasan while talking to The Federal.

“Such allegations should not become political vendetta. The allegations should be investigated seriously. If the DMK showed interest to retrieve Panchami lands, why didn’t it take any action on the Siruthavur Bungalow, when it was in power? The VCK is not speaking about the retrieval of Panchami land because it is now in an alliance with the DMK. Either Thirumavalavan should continue his allegation that Arivalayam was built on Panchami land or he should say that his allegation was wrong. He says neither this nor that,” Srinivasan said.

According to former IAS officer and founder of Samooga Samathuva Padai P Sivakami, the land issues were never a primary agenda for Thirumavalavan.

“He and his party use land issues just to garner support from people. They have not done any real work on the ground. They should have met the district collectors, they should have taken the land grievances to the proper authorities and they should have conducted demonstrations. But they did nothing,” she said.

“Out of 12 lakh acres of land, only 3 lakh acres are with the Dalits. The remaining 9 lakh acres are owned by individuals. In order to prevent discussions about those lands, political parties including Thirumavalavan are speaking about Murasoli and Siruthavur Bungalow. Even communist parties are silent on this which is a huge shock,” she added.