Dalit Parties and the Dilemmas of Democratization in Tamil Nadu

Published date01 June 2016
DOI10.1177/2321023016634933
Date01 June 2016
Subject MatterArticles
Article
Dalit Parties and the Dilemmas
of Democratization in Tamil Nadu
Hugo Gorringe1
Abstract
In 1999, the largest Dalit movement organization in Tamil Nadu abandoned a decade-long boycott of
elections and entered party politics as the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (Liberation Panther Party,
VCK). The focus of this article will be on the processes of institutionalization both into political insti-
tutions and into socio-cultural ways of doing politics. It will chart both how the party has changed as
a result of entering formal politics, and the ways in which it has managed to change the institutions it
entered. Looking at institutionalization in this way problematizes the usual focus on a party’s electoral
success or failure and compels us to analyze their political performance within its specific context.
I show how institutionalization in Tamil Nadu has taken particular forms which have some benefits for
VCK supporters, while also creating a rift between the party and its core support.
Keywords
Institutionalization, caste politics, Tamil Nadu, Dalits, social movements
Introduction
This article focuses on the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (Liberation Panther Party, VCK), the largest
Dalit movement organization in Tamil Nadu which was transformed into a political party in 1999. The
VCK rose to prominence on the back of aggressive and assertive campaigns that portrayed electoral
democracy as a sham. In 1999, however, the movement organization abandoned its poll boycott and
contested elections for the first time. In this poll, the VCK entered a Third Front led by the Tamil Maanila
Congress (Tamil State Congress) that offered an alternative to the two main Dravidian parties: the
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Dravidian Progressive Federation, DMK) and the All India Dravida
Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Since then it has allied alternately with both the Dravidian fronts and
succeeded in winning three Legislative Assembly seats in different elections and one in member of
parliament (MP) elections. Following the 2011 Legislative Assembly elections in which the VCK won
no seats, only MP Thirumavalavan, the founder, leader of the party remained in office. Despite their
high profile, however, neither he nor the General Secretary Ravikumar were able to win their seats in
the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, leaving the party with no elected representatives. Four political
1 Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Edinburgh, George Square Edinburgh, Scotland.
Studies in Indian Politics
4(1) 49–62
© 2016 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
sagepub.in/home.nav
DOI: 10.1177/2321023016634933
http://inp.sagepub.com
Corresponding author:
Hugo Gorringe, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Edinburgh, 22 George Square Edinburgh, EH8 9LD,
Scotland.
E-mail: H.Gorringe@ed.ac.uk

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