11 May 2021 | 2 min read
This piece will be a presentation on the caste-data of the Tamil Nadu elections (2021) collected by the team working on the state.
The Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly has a total of 234 seats occupied by democratically elected members. Of the 234 seats, 189 (approximately 81%) of them are general seats and 45 (approximately 19%) of them are reserved constituencies for Scheduled Castes and Tribes in accordance with union-level reservation requirements.
The 2021 Tamil Nadu legislative assembly elections saw the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) win the state after a decade. The last two terms were won by their main competitor, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). The two parties have been competing against each other since the 1970s, and are considered to be carrying forward the legacy of the Dravidian movement into present day electoral politics. The DMK contested in an alliance named “Secular Progressive Alliance” with the Indian National Congress, Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India- Marxist, Indian Union Muslim League and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi. The two most notable parties in the AIADMK-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) were the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Pattali Makkal Katchi. The total number of candidates from the parties in the alliances mentioned above is 468, approximately 12% of the total 3998 candidates that contested in the state elections this year.
The castes that were represented via the 468 candidates in the parties mentioned above were Naickers, Pillais, Saurashtras, Brahmins, Chettiyars, Naidus, Vaanniyars, Gounders (of which there was a majority of Kongu Vellala Gounders), Vokkaliga Gowdas, Vishwakarmas, Vellalars, Reddiars, Kallars, Nadars, Mutharaiyars, Udaiyars, Vanniyars, Paraiyars, Vannars, Arunthathiyars, Adi Dravidars and Pallars. The sample also included 4 members belonging to Scheduled Tribes, as well as 14 Muslims and 3 Christians whose caste information was unavailable.
Figure 1: Pie Chart of Overall Caste Representation from the Major Parties in the Two Major Alliances in the Tamil Nadu 2021 State Elections
The caste group that had the most representation amongst all 468 candidates in this sample from both the alliances combined was the Vanniyar community with 77 candidates (16%). The Other Backward Castes category (to which the Vanniyars belong) saw the widest range of caste groups participating in the elections; it also fielded the most number of candidates. The OBCs have consistently maintained an average of 72% seats in the assembly for the last 50 years, which is almost entirely proportional with their population in the state (Verniers, Karthik, Kumar & Agrawal, Scroll, May 10th 2021).
Figure 2: Pie Chart of OBC Representation from the aforementioned sample in Tamil Nadu 2021 State Elections
Among the Scheduled Castes, the Paraiyars had the largest number, with 52 candidates. 21 Christians were a part of the two alliances- 13 of them were from the SPA and the remaining 8 from the NDA. 10 Muslim candidates contested from the SPA and only 3 in the NDA, leaving the total number of Muslim candidates in either alliance at a mere 13.
Figure 3: Pie Chart of SC Representation from the aforementioned sample in Tamil Nadu 2021 State Elections
Out of the 149 candidates that contested for the AIADMK party, thirty nine candidates contested for seats reserved for Scheduled Castes, and two contested in seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes. Only 29 of the 173 DMK candidates contested in SC constituencies, and two in ST constituencies. There was a greater representation of caste groups in the DMK in comparison to the AIADMK, of 37 and 18 respectively. Of the 17 female candidates that contested for the AIADMK, 10 of them contested in the seats reserved for SC/ST groups. For the DMK, 6 out of the 11 female candidates contested in SC seats. This becomes important to note because it seems that the parties could have potentially adopted a “two birds with one stone” to gain female and SC representation by combining the candidates together. No SC candidate from the AIADMK party contested in a constituency that was not reserved. Only one SC candidate from the DMK contested in a general constituency.
Of the two national level parties, INC (which had 24 candidates) and BJP (which had 20 candidates), the former fielded 5 SC candidates while the latter fielded only 2. Both the parties had a majority of candidates belonging to OBC castes. The INC also had 3 Christian candidates and one Muslim. Interestingly, the BJP fielded a Muslim candidate as well. Khushboo Sundar, a popular Tamil actress, contested for the BJP in an important constituency in Chennai city. At first glance, this may seem rather odd considering the party’s Hindutva ideology that has often involved side-lining the Muslim population in the country. However, in states like West Bengal which have a large minority Muslim population, if the BJP carried out a Hindu-oriented campaign, they would risk losing out a significant number of votes. The party already had a disadvantage in this frontier, considering the national-level CAA/NRC legislations that were inherently disadvantageous to Muslims (Daniyal, Scroll, April 2021). As Tamil Nadu has also had a relatively secular history in its approach to politics, the BJP’s nomination in the state may be a continuation of the same trend.
The caste composition of the 86 SC candidates had five groups: the majority formed by the Paraiyars, Pallars, Arunthathiyars, Adi Dravidars and just one Vannar. Among the 6 candidates of VCK party which is meant to represent Dalits, 3 of the candidates were Paraiyars and one of them was an Arunthathiyar. The remaining two were not SC candidates. There were also 6 SC candidates totally from both the communist parties in the DMK alliance.
To sum up, there does not seem to be any drastic variation in the caste composition of candidates in the main alliances from the previous elections to this year, as we see a persistence of overall trends. Though there has been participation of members from Scheduled Castes, one cannot help but question the lack of their representation outside of reserved constituencies. The domination of OBC castes in general constituencies seems to have denied opportunities for those from SC communities to participate in non-reserved constituencies. The purpose of reservation was to ensure that a certain number of seats for SC members were guaranteed, not to act as a limitation to the seats for which they could contest. Though there were some aspects of caste representation in which the DMK-led SPA fared better than its opposition, it would be ideal to see an overall improvement in SC representation beyond reservation quotas in the next state elections.
Acknowledgements: We thank Avishek Jha for editing and feedback.
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Bhogale, Saloni, Sudheendra Hangal, Francesca Refsum Jensenius, Mohit Kumar, Chinmay Narayan, Basim U Nissa, and Gilles Verniers. 2019. “TCPD Indian Elections Data v1″, Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University.
Verniers, Gilles. Karthik, Vignesh. Kumar, Mohit. &Agrawal, Neelesh. “Tamil Nadu’s new assembly in 33 charts: Lowest women representation in 25 years, OBCs dominate”, Scroll.in https://scroll.in/article/994446/tamil-nadus-new-assembly-in-33-charts-lowest-women-representation-in-25-years-obcs-dominate
The SPINPER Project – The Social Profile of the Indian National and Provincial Elected Representatives. http://liaspinper.com/. Forthcoming
Shoaib Daniyal, “Why did the BJP run a largely non-polarising campaign in West Bengal?”, Scroll, April 2021. https://scroll.in/article/993292/why-did-the-bjp-run-a-largely-non-polarising-campaign-in-west-bengal