Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi: Tamil Nadu’s uncompromising Dalit party

Despite its growth in stature, the party has to settle for a minor role in the alliance

February 08, 2024 01:11 am | Updated 01:11 am IST

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin with Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi founder and Chidambaram MP Thol. Thirumavalavan during the VCK’s State conference at Tiruchi.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin with Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi founder and Chidambaram MP Thol. Thirumavalavan during the VCK’s State conference at Tiruchi. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), a political party borne out of the Dalit Panthers Movement in Tamil Nadu, which forcefully articulated the rights of Dalits, is currently in its 25th year in electoral politics and is preparing to contest the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in a few weeks as a part of Indian National Developmental, Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc.

The party recently organised a massive public rally, which happened to be INDIA bloc’s first major event in Tamil Nadu. It witnessed the participation of DMK president and Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, CPI (M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI General Secretary D. Raja and other leaders of the alliance in the State along with an unprecedented crowd. The VCK has positioned itself as a party that consistently punches above its weight. For a party that rejected electoral politics for a decade until contesting Lok Sabha elections in 1999, the VCK has come a long way: it has two Members of Parliament and four Members of the Legislative Assembly.

The VCK has managed to become an ideological bulwark of secularism and social justice in Tamil Nadu against Hindutva political forces and has played a key role in shaping the political stance of the Opposition alliance despite being a smaller player in the alliance in recent times. Helped majorly by the charisma of Mr. Thirumavalavan, and the Scheduled Caste community’s need for a party to fight for their rights, the party has weathered many electoral and political setbacks. Its second rung leaders contend that the VCK is the only Dalit party in the country to not compromise with the BJP despite, according to them, being offered an olive branch to join the Central government in their attempt to reach out.

The Dalit Panthers Movement in Tamil Nadu and its subsequent institutionalisation into a mainstream political party has not just helped raise awareness and instil confidence among Scheduled Castes, but it has also meant that the party has now access to relatively better resources and access to state machinery via its senior alliance partner.

However, VCK has never contested alone and has not proved its vote share, which is a necessity in electoral politics today to command an edge during bargaining for more seat representation with bigger parties. Leaders in the party mention several reasons for the failure to mobilise its voters as a vote bank: lack of resources and inherent paradoxical political dilemma of whether the party should primarily be a representative of the Dalit community and risk being inscribed within the Dalit identity or function as a mainstream political party which considers Dalit issues as one of the main issues in society. The result of this political dilemma is that the party has neither gained significant support from non-Dalit communities nor has it created a solid vote bank by mobilising Dalit communities.

The flip side of this growth in stature in electoral politics has meant the party has had to sometimes tone down its criticism of how inadequate the response of mainstream political parties and State government have been, to issues of discrimination and violence faced by Dalits. Since 2021, when DMK came to power in the State whose alliance the party is a part of, VCK has not, according to many Dalit activists, satisfactorily raised the issues of violence against Dalits with the State government. In December 2022, human faeces were found in the drinking water overhead tank used by the Dalits in Vengaivayal in Pudukottai district. The VCK had organised several protests, but still, the State government has been unable to nab the culprits in the Vengaivayal issue after more than a year. Mr. Thirumavalavan has criticised the police department for the delay. Sympathisers have often said the party ought to carve out an independent space and voice without worrying about whether it would affect their alliance prospects in the upcoming elections.

The criticism against the party is that they are unable to articulate the perspective of Dalits on various political issues and when they face instances and discrimination due to the fear of being edged out of the alliance. This, in turn, has resulted in the loss of confidence among its own supporters. If the party wants to move on to the next stage of its evolution, it should do well to resolve this political dilemma it finds itself in, which will enable it to play a much bigger role in Tamil Nadu politics.

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