“What does the RSS tell you?” Thol Thirumavalavan, a member of parliament from Tamil Nadu and president of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi—Liberation Panthers Party— asked rhetorically. The Dalit leader was on a stage festooned in the blue and red flags of the regional party in a rally at Tiruchirappalli, on 22 February. “They tell you this is the kali kaalam”—the end of days. “It is their end of days. Because this Thirumavalavan who should have been grazing cows, this Thirumavalavan who should have been carrying cow dung on his head, this Thirumavalavan who should have been wearing nothing but a loin cloth and suffering this pain, this same Thirumavalavan can stand on a stage.” He continued, “This same Thirumavalavan can proudly twirl his moustache, he can hold his head high and question the sanathanam”—the Tamil term for Brahminism—“that is taking over this country. This is their kali kalam because there are lakhs of panthers standing behind this common man.”
Thirumavalavan was referring to the VCK’s belief that the goal of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is the removal of the Constitution and the retrenchment of Brahminical supremacy over Dalits in India. Since 2017, small Periyarist and Ambedkarite outfits in towns and cities across Tamil Nadu have consistently mobilised in large numbers against the Bharatiya Janata Party. This groundswell of dissent crescendoed in two major rallies in Coimbatore and Tiruchirappalli in February this year. On 9 February, twelve thousand people representing more than sixty Periyarist outfits organised a march in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. The event, called the “Neelachattai Perani” or blue-shirt march—emblematic of the chosen colour of the Ambedkarite movement—ended with the creation of a manifesto of Dalit demands for the state. The second major march was the “Desakaapom Maanaadu,” or Save the Nation rally, which saw more than eighty thousand Ambedkarites attend in Tiruchirappalli, on 22 February. The two rallies show a closing of ranks between small Ambedkarite and Periyarist outfits, which have differing ideologies, to deal with what they perceive as a larger threat—the rise of Hindu nationalism in India, and Tamil Nadu in particular.