Sunday, April 3, 2011

[ZESTCaste] How Dalit politics in Tamil Nadu lost track

How Dalit politics in Tamil Nadu lost track
D. Karthikeyan

Twenty per cent of the State's population, too many parties and too
little unity. The Dalit politics in Tamil Nadu emerged as an
alternative in the early and mid-1990s opposing the Dravidian politics
in the State.

Close to two decades down the lane many Dalit intellectuals and social
scientists feel that it has lost track.

In fact, the history of Dalit movement actually precedes the Dravidian
movement to the colonial era in which Dalit intellectuals and leaders
Ayothidas Pandithar and Rettaimalai Srinivasan made interventions at
various levels espousing the cause of the depressed classes with the

Victim of Dravidian hegemony

Dalit electorate, an important decisive factor in any elections in the
State, has over the years been with the Congress, the Left, the
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra
Kazhagam. It was during the early 1990s, following Dr. Ambedkar
centenary and high-level of caste atrocities at the hands of
intermediate castes, Puthiya Tamilagam and Vidhuthalai Chiruthaigal
Katchi emerged originally as social organisations and later entered
electoral politics.

Dalit intellectuals in the State feel that the Dalit movements have
not only lost momentum but also fallen prey to the hegemonising
control tactics of the Dravidian parties. Ten seats allocated for the
VCK in the DMK alliance and the fact that the PT could not get more
than two seats indicated the sorry state of affairs of Dalit politics
in the State.

Dalit intellectual and writer Stalin Rajangam says, "If Pattali Makkal
Katchi, which drew a blank in the Lok Sabha elections could get a
maximum of 31 seats and a Rajya Sabha seat despite the fact of being a
troublesome partner in alliance, the VCK which has a clout in the
northern districts and also a reasonable presence across the State has
failed completely in the art of lobbying and politicking."

The Dalit discourse which emerged as a counter-hegemonic discourse
questioning the Dravidian ideology as being non-inclusive and one
which failed to mainstream the subalterns has become diluted and
fallen easy prey to the compulsions of electoral politics. Dalit
parties in the State lack a particular agenda or framework. Rather
than tackling and lobbying with a concrete strategy they only wish to
play second fiddle to the Dravidian parties.

The VCK's emergence in the political scenario is an interesting one.
The party, which was against the idea of electoral politics and later
decided to contest elections, was offered eight seats in 2001, along
with 10 for the PT by the DMK. In 2006, they were offered nine seats
by the AIADMK and in 2011 they are given 10. The growth rate is
abysmally low and during the last ten years they were able to get just
two seats more.

Mr. Stalin Rajangam further said that the compromises that the VCK had
made during the last five years anticipating the electoral gains as a
passive partner not voicing the major issues that affected the Dalits
to appease the DMK showed the intricate workings of political

Case of PT

The case of PT is much more disturbing as the party, which grew as a
militant organisation following the caste conflicts that rocked the
southern districts in the early and mid-1990s, has completely lost
ground and has reached a level of accepting a couple of seats from the
AIADMK. Feeling betrayed by the Dravidian parties and also Dalit
parties who have failed to give adequate representation for
Arunthathiyar Dalits, Adi Tamizhar Peravai has fielded candidates in
21 constituencies.

In the 2006 Assembly elections, the VCK contesting in nine
constituencies won in Kattumannarkoil and Mangalore and despite losing
did well in Sirkazhi, Chengam and Harur. K. Krishnasamy of Puthiya
Tamilagam, contesting on BSP symbol, lost at Ottapidaram by a margin
of 10,000 votes. The VCK has attracted members of the minority
community and various castes into its fold in the recent years. But
the party's poor bargaining and lobbying efforts in the alliance could
be a big setback, feel experts. Thol. Thirumavalavan was expecting to
field a rainbow of candidates cutting across various castes but now
has settled with one Muslim and one Vanniyar candidate, says a close
aide of the former.

C. Lakshmanan of Madras Institute of Development Studies feels that
the overarching domain of identity politics is its emancipatory
potential. However, over a course of time, it loses that potential and
enters a vicious circle. Dalit politics has entered that phase here.
"They started highlighting the significant differences in the Dalit
struggles to that of non-Dalits, but once they got consolidated they
are compromising themselves and their community for narrow individual

"The DMK's offer of 10 seats to the VCK does not indicate growth, as 8
out of the 10 are reserved seats. So, it has actually got only two
seats from the DMK."

Most of them also feel that the coming together of the VCK and the PMK
is just part of an electoral strategy and not a result of any real
effort to bring together the two communities.

To expect that this coming together would go beyond electoral politics
and have a significant impact on the functioning of caste dynamics is
just an illusion, feel Dalit intellectuals.


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