Author: Hugo Gorringe
Title: Voting for Ourselves' Dalit Politics and Elections in Tamil Nadu
Positive discrimination in favour of ex-Untouchables (Dalits) has assigned them a certain proportion of parliamentary seats. This means that Dalits cannot be ignored at election time, but as Dalits do not form a majority in any constituency they are dependent upon the votes of others. As a consequence, Dalit candidates are usually presented as unrepresentative, career politicians who toe the party line rather than advancing the interests of their own community. The past decade in Tamil Nadu, however, has seen the emergence of autonomous Dalit organisations that have demanded a voice in parliament and mobilised followers in an attempt to force their concerns onto the agenda. I argue that protest mobilisation is the main means by which excluded groups enter the mainstream, and in this light, Dalit politics has the potential to deepen democracy in the State rather than destabilise it. I examine the experience of the two main Dalit parties in Tamilnadu during the 1999 and 2001 elections and assess what this means for Tamil democracy.