VCK: A Dalit party that changed the political landscape of Tamil Nadu

Since its foray into electoral politics in 1999, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), led by Thol Thirumavalavan, has become a strategic force and the biggest Dalit party in Tamil Nadu.
VCK: A Dalit party that changed the political landscape of Tamil Nadu
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When a young Thol Thirumavalavan thundered ‘Adanga maru, Athu meeru, Thimiri Ezhu, Thiruppi Adi’ (‘Refuse to be subdued, Transgress, Rise vehemently, Retaliate’) standing on the south car street in Chidambaram in 1996, it was considered a pivotal moment in the political awakening of many Dalit youngsters, who had been conditioned to endure oppression. In the 25 years since its foray into electoral politics, Thirumavalavan’s party – the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) – has become a strategic and astute force and the biggest Dalit party in Tamil Nadu but has still failed to contest elections alone or wrest more number of seats to contest from in alliances. Despite the party expanding its political base to the five southern states and being considered an ideological nemesis to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its current prospects and future trajectory hinges squarely on the persona of one person – Thol Thirumavalavan.

VCK emerged from the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI) movement in Maharashtra, which drew inspiration from the revolutionary Black Panther Party in the United States. VCK also focuses on community organisation, grassroots activism, and challenging systemic injustices, similar to the Black Panthers. It amalgamates the ideologies of Ambedkar on social justice and empowerment for Dalits; Periyar on rationalism, social reform, and anti-caste movement; and Marx on capitalism and advocacy for proletarian liberation. The party believes that only by addressing the multifaceted dimensions of oppression and inequality can one attain liberation.

Though VCK has changed the political landscape of Tamil Nadu, it has a chequered past because of some of its alliances and has been accused of being patriarchal and a sub-caste Dalit party. However, Dalits and those from marginalised communities still feel that VCK is their only hope as it is the only anti-caste party in Tamil Nadu that is actively fighting Hindutva forces.

In the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, VCK is contesting in just two seats. While the party demanded four seats from the DMK-led alliance, including one general constituency, only two seats were given to them – both reserved. Dalit politicians and parties are most often relegated to reserved constituencies. They have often, in alliances such as this, demanded a greater share in political power by pointing to the contradiction that general seats are not only for oppressor castes.

VCK party workers tying VCK flags ahead of the elections
VCK party workers tying VCK flags ahead of the electionsSivasubramanyan MV

The Chidambaram constituency will see a direct fight between VCK and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – Thol Thirumavalavan, who is the sitting MP contesting again under the party’s ‘pot’ symbol, will face off against P Karthiyayini. D Ravikumar of the VCK is recontesting in Villupuram under the same symbol.

In the 2019 elections, the two parties tried an interesting strategy by having VCK adopt the ‘rising sun’ symbol of the DMK in the Villupuram constituency. A section of Dalit supporters, however, were unhappy with the move. This didn’t dent Ravikumar’s prospects; he won by securing more than five lakh votes over Pattali Makkal Katchi’s (PMK) Vadivel Ravanan. The PMK’s base consists largely of the Vanniyar caste, which is a dominant caste group but belonging to the most backward class (MBC). This strategy allowed the DMK and the VCK to tide over the consolidation of Vanniyar votes towards the PMK. The PMK is often seen as an anti-Dalit party and has been responsible for several Dalit-Vanniyar riots in the region, including the 1978 Villupuram massacre that left 12 Dalits dead and more than hundred of their huts burnt.

Predictions are that in this election too Ravikumar will easily sail over his PMK rival, 34-year-old Murali Shankar. Murali, who is also from the Paraiyar community like Ravikumar, is one of the youngest candidates to compete in this election.

Professor Karthikeyan Damodaran from the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) points out that the VCK is yet to develop in the electoral landscape.

"Twenty years ago, VCK got two seats to contest from and that remains the same today. They are forced to make compromises for the sake of the larger good. Right now, the threat of Hindutva is used to put them in a compromising position. But you can’t just be a cog in the wheel. This onus is not only on the VCK but on DMK and other parties that believe in democracy. VCK remaining in the same place is not only bad for their own political party and ideology, but also for democracy in a larger sense."
Professor Karthikeyan Damodaran

DPI to VCK: The transformation

In the 20th century, Dalit youths who started entering higher education in Maharashtra started a literary movement known as the ‘Little Magazine Movement’. In the 1960s, this movement vehemently criticised the government’s stance on caste discrimination. In 1972, inspired by the Black Panther Party, Dalit writers from this movement formed the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI) in Bombay. It was led by JV Pawar, Namdeo Dhasal, and Raja Dhale.

However, ideological rifts led to a split in the DPI, with some leaders, including Ramdas Athawale, forming the Bharatiya Dalit Panthers (BDP) in 1977. Athawale was expanding BDP to other states, when A Malaichamy emerged as a man who could lead Dalits in Tamil Nadu in 1982. The Tamil Nadu branch of the BDP was called Dalit Panther Iyakkam (DPI), though on paper its name was BDP.

During the late 1980s, when Malaichamy was actively building the DPI movement, Thirumavalavan, who was a young government Forensic Officer back then, joined hands with him. A powerful orator, Thirumavalavan started addressing meetings where he was able to deliver stirring speeches. Soon, the youngster became a close associate of Malaichamy.

In 1989, after Malaichamy passed away, Thirumavalavan took over the reins of DPI. In 1990, the Madurai-based political movement was transformed into a political party and rechristened Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK). The name was chosen because of the impact of the ethnic violence that was happening in Sri Lanka and the impact of Tamil identity and Viduthalai Puligal (LTTE) on Thirumavalavan.

VCK: A Dalit party that changed the political landscape of Tamil Nadu
A Malaichamy: The man who envisioned a Dalit political front in Tamil Nadu

Until 1999, VCK was considered a sociopolitical movement that boycotted elections and directly questioned caste inequities and discrimination without mincing words.

T Vellaiyan (76), a retired headmaster in Chidambaram, says that initially the party did not focus its energy and attention on gaining support but were keen on creating awareness among Dalits about caste discrimination and empowering them to question things. “Basically, VCK was focused on making people say that they will not bow down because of their caste,” he adds.

Since 1999, the party has evolved into a well-oiled electoral machine. It has been in alliances not only with the state’s two Dravidian parties, but also joined hands with a party seen as anti-Dalit – the PMK. This unlikely political relationship with the PMK is still a puzzle to many VCK cadre and is part of every biographical conversation about the party. VCK’s political stance after entering electoral politics is both criticised bitterly and supported by party sympathisers who defend it as a ‘strategic choice’.

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Maxim Gorky, a young party worker from Koliyanur in Villupuram, was doing campaign work in his locality in the sweltering heat on April 3 when we met him. He says his father named him after the Russian-Soviet writer. He soon adds that he hasn’t read Gorky but grew up listening to speeches about leaders, especially Ambedkar. Although he is a grassroots worker, he sees the need for pragmatism in politics and takes the party’s contradictions in his stride.

He says, “Annan [Thirumavalavan] clearly said that it was a decision made for the common cause of Tamil nationalism and freedom for Sri Lankan Tamils. But when the Dharmapuri violence happened, we were very clear that allying with the PMK was impossible.” He refers to the violence that took place in Dharmapuri in 2012 after a woman from the Vanniyar community went away with a Dalit man she was in a relationship with. After her father died by suicide, a Vanniyar mob rampaged Dalit settlements burning hundreds of their huts.

VCK party worker Maxim Gorky
VCK party worker Maxim Gorky

Why Dalit parties need alliances

In 1999, VCK forayed into electoral politics and contested the 13th Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) headed by GK Moopanar. The alliance also included the Puthiya Tamilagam (PT) party, which was headed by K Krishnasamy, another Dalit leader belonging to the Pallar community, and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). The alliance promised to break the Dravidian binary created by the DMK and AIADMK in the state. They said that they would provide a government free of “communalism and corruption”. Moopanar had broken ties with the DMK after it formed an alliance with the BJP and called the AIADMK a “corrupt” party before floating the third front. The alliance, however, drew a blank in the elections.

Things have come full circle now. TMC has joined hands with the BJP and PT is in alliance with the AIADMK this election.

Though Thirumavalavan lost in Chidambaram in the 1999 elections, he got 30.8% of the total votes polled. The SC population of the constituency was 22.65%. That result allowed the VCK to assert that it was not merely a Paraiyar party but an anti-caste party with a much wider social base. It also bolstered their Tamil nationalist credentials.

Siva Dinesh (43), who is an assistant professor and coordinator of the Thiruma Payilagam in Chidambaram non-municipal area, recalls that gaining votes in 1999 was a herculean task as the dominant caste groups were angry with the Dalit mobilisation in the area. “Nobody would even give us water to drink when we went campaigning. Only Dalits would give us water and refreshments, and assure us that they would vote for VCK. Back then, we were a group of youngsters, we had no money. We used to go on bicycles for campaigning. Dalits would contribute Rs 2 per household for the campaign works and we would buy limestone and blue dye (neelam) with that money and paint across Dalit areas. We could not do that in non-Dalit areas though. We did all of this for Annan,” he says. He also adds that it was the first election in which the Dalit population of Chidambaram had an option and the conviction to vote for a leader of their choice.

VCK and PMK, who have always been up against each other due to their ideological differences, remained on the same side when in alliance with the DMK. The duo joined hands in 2004, for the sake of Tamil nationalism, and formed the Tamil Paathugappu Iyakkam.

Siva Dinesh, along with his friends Vetri and Vijaya Baskar, who are all VCK party workers
Siva Dinesh, along with his friends Vetri and Vijaya Baskar, who are all VCK party workers

C Lakshmanan, who heads Dalit Intellectual Collective, a group of Dalit scholars and activists, says, “The PMK-VCK coming together is a very complex issue. During that period of time, Tamil nationalism was a widely shared sentiment and served as the binding principle between both the parties. Otherwise, if we consider their alliance, they are stronger together numerically. VCK has consolidated the Dalit population to some extent and the PMK has done the same with the Vanniyars. These two coming together could have become the ruling alliance. But it was not managed well by both sides.”

Apart from this, the question of deradicalisation also lingers among the VCK’s cadres. Several people working on the ground feel that the party has become so deradicalised and leaders are not as ferocious in registering their views as they were during the activist days.

Professor Karthikeyan explains that this is only expected of any political party, especially smaller ones, when they enter electoral politics. “A party like the VCK or any other party within Tamil Nadu, if it’s not a national party or a party in power, elections will be a very difficult environment, particularly with regard to finances. You need money for everything, starting from campaigning to providing food for your cadres. For parties like VCK, it is very difficult to survive elections alone, they have to align with one of the bigger parties, but there is always this question of being co-opted into an alliance. So, ultimately what happens is that any autonomy the party has gets lost whenever in an alliance. When the VCK was with the DMK, there was a lot of criticism that VCK became an extension of the DMK. They were even called the SC/ST wing of the DMK.”

He adds that when parties enter electoral politics, they get deradicalised because of the machinations of electoral politics.

“When a party enters electoral politics, the first and foremost thing is compromise. Leaders cannot be very rigid or adamant in terms of ideology or practice when it comes to elections. But one has to think rationally about what extent one can compromise and what is the price we can pay for compromising. VCK’s compromise has come at the cost of Dalits,” says Lakshmanan. However, he emphasises that the party has given some kind of moral support, courage, and assertiveness to Dalits.

He also points out that despite being a political party for 35 years and contesting elections for 25 years, and despite being one of the most influential Dalit parties in the state, VCK is unable to get ECI recognition. “They should have contested alone and proven their strength. PMK, Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK), and other smaller parties, first contest alone and then negotiate. But VCK didn’t do that, which has proven to be a mistake,” he says.

VCK’s ‘pot’ symbol painted in DMK’s colours red and black
VCK’s ‘pot’ symbol painted in DMK’s colours red and black

Education needed before organisation

Raja Desingh (33), a resident of Villupuram, says that VCK empowered the Dalit community to question the atrocities happening against them. “We were oppressed for decades but now we have the strength to walk upright with our heads held high. It’s from the ideologies that Thirumavalavan spread through his speeches that we learnt about our rights. He was the first person to tell us that our lives matter and that we have been systemically oppressed by dominant caste and political forces. From learning how to fight against our oppressors, we are now in a place to defy against anyone who tries to oppress us, be it the ruling party too,” he says.

Echoing this sentiment, Neelam Kalai (27), a party sympathiser, says that the sole reason for standing behind Thirumavalavan is his ideology, which he learnt through his speeches. He also adds that Thirumavalavan is carefully building the movement and party on the foundations of education. “Firstly, he taught us that more than weapons, education is important. He was aware of the issues we face and knew that the community could rise up in the social hierarchy only through education. His most important contribution to Tamil Nadu politics and to Dalits is that he politicised us,” he adds.

Siva Dinesh says that sometimes VCK regrets entering electoral politics as it could have fought more vigorously and hit back when atrocities happen. “But we also know that ultimately it might not be a victory for the community, as our aim is not just hitting back but socioeconomic mobility in society. It was Thirumavalavan who pushed us in the right direction and said – repeatedly in his speeches – that we have to get educated and get to a position of power to bring in a change. If we had continued to be a radical movement, it wouldn’t have brought about the societal change that we have now. At one point, talking about DPI or Thirumavalavan was a scary affair as we were seen as anti-social elements. But now we are in a place where VCK has become the most influential Dalit party here and Thirumavalavan is considered one of the most important Dalit leaders in India. And we are supporting him after getting educated. We will never forget what he did for us and will support him no matter what,” he says.

Inclusivity in the VCK: The sub-caste conundrum

In 2007, the  VCK general committee passed the ‘Velachery resolution’ or ‘Velachery declaration’, through which leadership positions in the party were opened up to non-Dalits. Stating that the party was considered to be a Dalit party when they entered electoral politics, Thirumavalavan – during his 2016 election campaign – said, “In 2007, we passed the Velachery Resolution, opening up all positions from top to bottom in the party to show that we are inclusive.”

A VCK worker explains that when entering electoral politics, it becomes essential to secure votes from a diverse range of voters, instead of solely relying on the Dalit vote bank. “There was also the projection that it was a Paraiyar party and not for all Dalits. This resolution was much-needed at the time. But what we have to consider is its implications on Dalits. Now, with non-Dalits in leadership posts and many non-Dalit members, they are the ones reaping the benefits when the party wins. Dalits do not have the economic background or strong social support to sustain in the party,” he says.

Lakshmanan, while admitting that the Velachery resolution was a good political move, says that it was not a sound decision with regard to Dalits. “Who is raising their voice for Dalits in the Assembly and Lok Sabha? Does the DMK raise Dalits’ issue? It is only the Dalits who do that. The reason VCK decided to contest elections was that mainstream parties did not adequately address the issues of Dalits. The situation even today is that only Dalits speak up for Dalits.”

He further alleges that VCK’s statement about being ‘a party for all’ is just rhetoric to avoid questions about why the party is not giving Dalits a strong voice. “When there is a problem for Dalits, it is not a law and order issue to be dealt with by the police but can usually be solved through political conversations and dialogue. And we need people in power who will drive these conversations,” Lakshmanan adds.

Hoarding of MK Stalin in DMK-VCK-Congress meeting in Chidambaram
Hoarding of MK Stalin in DMK-VCK-Congress meeting in ChidambaramSivasubramanyan MV

There is also the question about whether the party is inclusive of different Dalit castes. DPI brought under it the three major Dalit caste groups – its organiser Malaichamy belonged to the Devendra Kula Vellalar community (earlier called Pallars), president D David belonged to the Adi Dravidar (also called Paraiyars) community, and secretary Sengottaiyan to the Arundhathiyar community.

Raees Mohammed, founder of Dalit Camera, a platform used to document the lives of Dalits, Adivasis, Bahujans, as well as other minorities in India, says, “DPI grew with the blood and sweat of the Arunthathiyars in Madurai district. Those days, Adi Dravidars were largely not supporting the movement, and the party was also not caste-based. But when Thirumavalavan took over and shifted the party base to Chennai, the ground here belonged to Adi Dravidars and it became a party in which not only the district secretary but even the local secretary posts were given to Paraiyars. I am not saying it is an anti-Arunthathiyar party but that it is a pro-Paraiyar party.”

Stating that there are multiple instances of harassment meted out to Arunthathiyars by Paraiyars, Raees says that though Thirumavalavan and VCK speak about social justice, they are demanding it for them from the castes above them and they are not giving it to those in the hierarchy below them. “In Sandaiyur in Madurai, Paraiyar community members are dominant and they have been living with the Arunthathiyar community for several years. In 2017, the Paraiyars built a 50-foot wall separating the two communities due to some issues between them. In this issue, the VCK supported the Paraiyars.” Discrimination in the form of caste walls is something that the Paraiyar community itself has faced in several parts of the state. “If the party leadership had wished, they could have gotten involved and resolved the issue. The Arundhathiyar community is being neglected by all the mainstream parties, including the Dalit parties,” Raees adds.

Nazir Ahamed, a 71-year-old resident of Tindivanam, says that the Velachery resolution enabled Muslims to enter the party as functionaries. “Several leaders came and went but Thirumavalavan stayed and grew along with us. If democracy should be saved, there should be equality, fraternity, and secularism. Thirumavalavan is one of the only leaders fighting to uphold the Constitution and the rights guaranteed under it,” he adds.

Another VCK sympathiser who is also a Muslim and part of the DMK says that though there are Muslim parties in Tamil Nadu and DMK has space for Muslims, it is only the VCK that is putting up a direct and face-to-face fight against the RSS-BJP.

“Nobody else, including the DMK, are as vocal and harsh against the Hindutva forces, who primarily consider Muslims enemies. So it is not a surprise that Muslims feel safer with the VCK and extend their support to the party.”
VCK sympathiser who is also a Muslim and part of the DMK

‘VCK has become patriarchal’

Siva Dinesh also expresses that the party has a long way to go in terms of mobilising its women supporters. In all the villages and towns that TNM visited, we did not encounter a single woman party worker in the field. When questioned, district functionaries said that the women are mostly based out of Chennai and will arrive for campaigning when elections are nearer.

“We know there is a vacuum in the party when it comes to women functionaries and women officeholders. There are some active women in the party, but we are still unable to bring more women into the party. This might be due to the societal conditioning that women need not participate in politics or because of family situations,” Siva Dinesh says.

Dalit woman activist and political commentator Shalin Maria Lawrence says though Chennai has many women VCK cadres at the grassroots level, they do not hold any organisational positions and remain subservient to the men in the party. “VCK has become a patriarchal party. They talk about Sanatana Dharma and inequality, but when we look at the party structure, we can understand that VCK is systematically patriarchal. Men make decisions and women are expected to execute that.”

The other major point of discontentment among some cadres in the party is the way the party handled the allegations of casteist harassment and financial abuse under the garb of a relationship by deputy spokesperson R Vikraman.

In May 2023, Vikraman was accused of casteist, financial, and misogynist abuse by a Dalit woman lawyer. She alleged that he exploited her caste vulnerabilities in a romantic relationship, causing her financial and emotional harm, and also accused him of intellectual theft. Though the party formed an internal inquiry committee to look into the allegations, the complainant alleged that a copy of the report was not given to her, despite asking for it multiple times. Also, she was able to approach Thirumavalavan mainly through a group of non-Dalits who had access to the party leadership.

“This issue has been pricking me like a thorn since it happened. I expected the party leadership to at least release a public statement. Though they said it was a personal issue and raised suspicion that it was politicised, at the end of the day it is a Dalit woman lawyer who has practised in the Supreme Court,” a party worker in Chidambaram tells TNM. However, his friend interrupts him to say, “Thalaivar [leader] would have a good reason for that. I heard that the issue was resolved and Vikraman is not active in the party also. Why dig up old things?”

Shalin says that VCK’s patriarchal mindset is reflected in the Vikraman case. “There was not even a condemnation from Thirumavalavan. He could have at least kept Vikraman away from the party till the case is over but Vikraman is still part of the party and participating in events. Instead of recognising that the survivor is a Dalit woman, male interest was prioritised over Dalit interest. You are still enabling him, then what is the point of demanding the eradication of Sanatana Dharma?” she asks.

Watch: RSS is working to defeat me : VCK Chief Thirumavalavan to TNM

Ideological nemesis of RSS-BJP?

Talking to multiple sources in Chidambaram, TNM found that the RSS and BJP have been actively campaigning against Thirumavalavan. VCK cadre say that the RSS groups surface in different forms – as civil society organisations, NGOs, etc – and advocate against Thirumavalavan and his party.

“This is because of his staunch anti-Hindutva stand. While other Dalit leaders like Ramdas Athawale and Mayawati went to the BJP, Thirumavalvan is the only one putting up a strong fight against the Sangh Parivar. Hindu belief is different from Sanatana Dharma and we are clear that our fight is against sanatanam,” says Kurinjivalavan, a VCK state functionary.

Looking at the past decade of Thirumavalavan’s politics, his stance against divisiveness and majoritarianism is clear. He is vocally against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), was vocal about the need for OBC reservation, and was very critical of the reservation for economically weaker sections (EWS). He had also taken strong exceptions to NEET, the Kudankulam nuclear power plant issues, abrogation of Article 370, and the Ayodhya verdict.

BJP workers rallying in Chidambaram
BJP workers rallying in ChidambaramSivasubramanyan MV

In 2020, a short video clip from a webinar on ‘Periyar and Indian Politics’ was widely circulated and several right-wing women outfits sought action against Thirumavalavan. In the video, Thirumavalavan was seen saying, “How are women, who form around half the population, treated in Sanatana Dharma? How are they oppressed and been taken advantage of for a long time? What does Sanatana Dharma say about women? Women were basically created by god as prostitutes. All women are prostitutes, as per Hindu dharma, Manu dharma.” Following this controversy, VCK staged statewide protests seeking a ban on the Manusmriti.

VCK: A Dalit party that changed the political landscape of Tamil Nadu
Thol Thirumavalavan interview: 'Manusmriti is practiced in all walks of life'

In 2022, VCK published a 32-page booklet with select verses from the Manusmriti and with a foreword explaining the reasons why the text, considered both misogynistic and casteist, must be read. The booklet also spoke about why VCK opposes the RSS, describing it as “a terrorist organisation” that divides society on the basis of “religion, varna and caste.”

VCK: A Dalit party that changed the political landscape of Tamil Nadu
Why a political party in Tamil Nadu is distributing booklets on Manusmriti

In October 2022, opposing the RSS route march, it was VCK that led the ‘Communal Harmony’ human chain demonstration in Chennai. Several political outfits and individuals participated in the demonstration, including MDMK, CPI, CPI(M), and non-political outfits like Dravidar Kazhagam (DK).

Watch: To counter RSS, TN parties hold Communal harmony rally

Long before these developments, the VCK organised a conference called ‘Desam Kappom Maanaadu’ (Save the Nation Conference) in 2019 in Trichy where Thirumavalavan lashed out at the ruling BJP for letting Sanatana Dharma grow. “If the BJP comes to power again, nobody can save the country anymore. Leaders like Periyar and Dr Ambedkar worked hard to defeat and destroy Sanatana Dharma. We cannot let such an ideology become prominent again,” he said during the event.

“There is a serious and active attempt to portray Annan [Thirumavalavan] as the enemy of Hindus, when actually he is the enemy of Hindutva and oppressing forces. He is perhaps the only Dalit leader in India fighting against fascism and Sanatana Dharma, so of course the RSS wants to defeat him,” says a Dalit professor working at NIT Trichy.

Professor Karthikeyan agrees.

“Among all the parties based in Tamil Nadu, if there is one political party that has been fighting tooth and nail against Hindutva, it has to be the VCK. The fact that a smaller party like VCK is putting up an open fight against Hindutva forced even the DMK to act.”
Professor Karthikeyan Damodaran

He adds that Thirumavalavan is portrayed as anti-Hindu by the right-wing by editing and circulating his videos without providing any context. “It has been propagated that he is someone who is against Hinduism. Fighting against Hindutva is completely different from being anti-Hindu. Thirumavalavan is not anti-Hindu, he is just anti-Hindutva.”

He also says that Thirumavalavan poses an additional problem to the BJP as it is trying to make inroads in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu such as Chidambaram and Villupuram. “The party made TN BJP leader L Murugan, who is Dalit, a Union Minister. Whether there is a real sense of empowerment among Dalits is a question mark, but these things are just to score points in the state. But Thirumavalavan being seen as a strong Dalit leader is a stumbling block for the BJP. So the party has a very strong incentive to make Thirumavalavan politically null and void, and that’s why they are working against him getting elected,” says Karthikeyan.

BJP workers rally in Chidambaram, standing opposite a VCK banner
BJP workers rally in Chidambaram, standing opposite a VCK bannerSivasubramanyan MV

In Chidambaram, Thirumavalavan faces M Chandrahasan of AIADMK and Karthiyayini of the BJP. VCK cadres say, “We don’t see this as a simple election but rather as a fight between anti-caste ideology and Hindutva forces. Thirumavalavan’s win will be a statement against Hindutva forces and the Sanatana Dharma they push. And we are sure aram [truth] always wins.”

This reporting is made possible with support from Report for the World, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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