Lok Sabha Election

Major parties confine Dalit candidates to reserved seats

Despite major parties invoking ideas of social justice for many decades in Tamil Nadu, the question over representation of Dalits adequately in public life, as much as the other dominant and upper castes, is being raised time and again.

In Tamil Nadu, well-known Dalit candidates are again being fielded only from reserved constituencies, instead of general constituencies. While DMK leader and former Union Minister A. Raja will contest from The Nilgris constituency, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi founder Thol. Thirumavalavan and party’s general secretary D. Ravikumar will contest from Chidambaram and Villupuram (both reserved) respectively.

Why has this become the norm? Stressing that the VCK had sought Chidambaram and Villupuram based on the prospects of its candidates, Mr. Ravikumar, who is the party general secretary, agreed that there was indeed a perception among parties not to field Dalit candidates from general constituencies. “Reservation guarantees representation for Dalits but that doesn’t mean that they should be confined to these constituencies. Those who want to contest in the open category should be able to do so,” he said.

But what matters ultimately was the victory of the candidate.

“Elections are not the time to test your ideology. Only winning matters now,” said Mr. Ravikumar.

DMK draws flak

Shyam Krishnasamy, son of Puthiya Tamilagam leader Dr. Krishnasamy, has been critical of the DMK not fielding Mr. Raja from the Perambalur constituency despite winning it thrice when it was a reserved constituency. “It is the mentality of the Dravidian party. Raja has won from Perambalur and has been a Cabinet Minister in the Centre. But he is not being fielded from his native place but from The Nilgris instead, which is a reserved constituency. If social justice is the major plank of DMK, why do they fear fielding him from a general constituency?” asked Mr. Shyam.

Explaining why Dr. Krishnasamy, who has been demanding that the Devendrakula Vellalar community be removed from the Scheduled Caste list, is contesting from Tenkasi, a reserved constituency, he said: “We chose Tenkasi because this is a seat that we are confident of winning.

“PT’s political base is in Tenkasi and we contested from Tenkasi in 1996 when it was a general constituency. Tenkasi has a large number of our community votes.”

Voters polarised?

But are people so polarised that they will refuse to vote for a Dalit candidate in a general constituency? Republican Party Of India leader C.K. Thamizharasan cited precedents to highlight how Dalit candidates contesting in general constituency was not new. “We have had instances such as Dalit Ezhilmalai winning from Tiruchi Lok Sabha constituency on behalf of the AIADMK and C.T. Dhandapani winning from Coimbatore constituency on a DMK ticket in the past. There are a few other examples back in the past,” he said.

He added that political parties are trying to build a consensus that Dalit candidates should contest only from reserved constituencies. “I do not accept that people won’t vote for a Dalit candidate. It is the parties that have found a way to safeguard the system,” he said.

Wondering why representation of the Dalit community beyond the quota of seats reserved for them is seen as a problem, Dalit writer Stalin Rajangam said, “There are dominant communities whose representation — in political parties and in assembly and in Parliament — exceeds their actual population. It is a kind of politics to keep the representation of Dalits under ‘acceptable’ levels so as not to upset dominant and upper castes,” he said.

He added, “Dravidian parties came to power promising social change but they haven’t been able to ensure that Dalit candidates win in general constituency.”

Naam Tamilar Katchi, a Tamil nationalist party in Tamil Nadu, has managed to field Dalit candidates in general constituencies openly and an equal number of men and women.

Makkal Needhi Maiam has fielded one Dalit candidate in a general constituency in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Need to do more

Contesting in more general seats across the country, many say that it is unfair to only hold Dravidian parties to account and demand that national parties – the BJP, the Congress and the Communist parties – should field more Dalits in general constituencies.

Tamilisai Soundararajan, BJP Tamil Nadu president, said the BJP fielded about five SC candidates in general seats in the 2016 State Assembly elections.

"There is no drawback in fielding such candidates. The issue is the candidate's strength. If they are strong in the constituency and gain the people's mindset, there is no problem,” she said.

Tamil Nadu Congress President K S Alagiri and spokesperson Peter Alphonse said there was no issue with SC candidates being fielded in general seats.

“Ultimately it's the strength of the candidate that matters. Parties don't make any distinction on these lines,” Mr. Alagiri said.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2021 9:23:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/major-parties-confine-dalit-candidates-to-reserved-seats/article26602129.ece

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