In caste politics, dalits take a backseat
Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala has contributed to the nation its first dalit President, K R Narayanan, and the first Chief Justice, K G Balakrishnan. But when it comes to MPs and MLAs, mainstream political parties, however, are still hesitant to field candidates from scheduled caste and scheduled tribes in general seats.
The only exception is K Kunjambu, elected to the Lok Sabha from Kannur, a general seat, in 1980. Bhargavi Thankappan who won from Adoor reserved constituency in 1971 is the lone dalit woman MP from the state. So far, no tribesman has gone to the parliament from Kerala.
Kunjambu, the then sitting MP of Nilamboor reserved constituency, was fielded in Kannur by Congress (U) leader A K Antony.
According to Cherian Philip, political historian and former colleague of Antony, Nilamboor was given to CPM, an alliance partner of Congress (U) in 1980.
“There was a suggestion to give an assembly seat to Kunjambu, the incumbent MP. But Antony insisted on sending a dalit MP to the Lok Sabha,” Philip recalled.
Kunjambu won the election garnering 57.7% of votes, which no other candidate had managed to win after 1980.
Dalit writer K K Kochu said mainstream political parties have been denying general seats to dalits just because there are reserved seats.
“No parties, or dalits within parties, advocate proper representation. It is high time that parties shed their patronizing stand and realized that it is the right of dalits,” he said.
Kochu said the representation of dalits in Rajya Sabha, too, has been poor. Of the 117 Rajya Sabha members from Kerala, only four were dalits, he said. They were K K Madhavan (1976-82) and T K C Vaduthala (1986-92) and P K Kunjachan (1973-79 and 1988) and K Somaprasad (2016-2022).
While others were given multiple Rajya Sabha terms, dalits normally end up with a single term.
Now a CPI district committee member from Thiruvananthapuram, the 77-year-old Bhargavi Thankappan said none of the mainstream parties discussed the under-representation of dalits.
Philip said parties are hesitant to field candidates from SC/ST communities as the dalit representation in a constituency will be maximum 14%. “Parties will field candidates from dominant castes expecting better winning probability,” he said.
Even in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election, caste prejudices are evident in the selection of candidates. LDF, UDF and NDA have fielded six candidates each from the Nair community, which constitute 11.9% of the population, as per 2011 census. Ezhava community, which is 21.6% of population, has five NDA candidates, four LDF and two Congress candidates.
Muslims, comprising 26.6% of the population, has got only four seats from LDF and two from UDF. SC/ST, which constitutes 9.6% of population, has no candidates other than those contesting from the reserved seats.