Indian Politics: Votes are caste, not cast

In this essay…

Caste is the mosaic of Indian politics” – Christopher Jaffrelot

In the above quote, one of the renowned political scientists, Christopher Jaffrelot, says that caste is the mosaic of Indian politics. According to him, the caste-based mosaic in Indian politics has been very close to Indian society. Like other topics, caste politics has also been contested among political scientists. Ideally, the cast should be mean to achieve political power and serve society. But the prevalence of the caste factor is creating challenges in ensuring democratic spirit in the electorate method.

In this essay, we would discuss the following – “What is the historical context of the caste system?”, “When did it take apart and become part and parcel of politics? How does caste shapes Indian politics? What are the possible factors behind caste in Indian politics? How it impacts different aspects of Indian society? What could be the way forward?

Context of caste politics in India

Basically, the caste system is originated back in the post-Vedic period from where caste took shape. People are divided into a different caste based on birth and not merit. But the modern origin of caste in Indian politics is traced from the Britishers period in 1932 with the communal award. Poona pact was signed between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar to neutralize communal Award in 1932 in Yeravada Jail. Dr. Ambedkar left the demand of a separate electorate and affirmative actions are extended STs and SCs.

Government of India act 1935 was another attempt by the British govt which tried to appease Indian people on a caste basis. However, later, with the increasing bargaining power of the Muslim League, the role of caste became dormant for some time. It is because caste and religion in politics are the two sides of the same coin, as remarked by the prof C.P. Bhambri.

Caste: Mosaic of Indian politics

After independence till the ‘Congress system’ as coined by Rajini Kothari, caste was not a major factor. It is so because India had got fresh independence from the Britishers. Post-Nehruvian era, political instability was witnessed which went for the search for politics. During Lal Bahadur Shastri, politics at the center was largely national security and food security. But politics at regions were regional due to linguistic recognition of states.

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But J.P. Movement and subsequently Janta Party and Mandal commission report gave an opportunity to the political class to use caste in electoral politics. This was called by experts as ‘politicization of caste’. Implementation of Mandal commission during the V.P. Singh’s government leads to the emergence of regional parties in India. Those regional parties were largely motivated by caste factors.

For example, RJD in Bihar, SP, and BSP in UP and regional parties in southern states focused on ‘Reddy’. Christopher Jaffrelot, an expert on Indian politics claims that the 90s was the time that changed regional politics from region-based to caste-based to some extent. Post-1990s, along with the time those regional parties were transformed from ‘politicization of caste’ to ‘casteisation of politics’. BSP in UP is an example of casteization of politics. Further, the Green revolution gave birth to “Bullock capitalist” and the surge of OBC politics in India.

Why votes are caste not cast?

This phenomenon can be explained through demand and supply mechanisms. Why there is demand from politicians? – The answer would be simple. First, It increases the chance of winnability. A study by CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) validates the winnability trend. Second, Identity politics like ‘caste politics’ is the easiest way to polarize people for the political benefits of the politicians. Former chief election commissioner, T.N. Shesan said in one of the interviews that it is used to distract people and cover up the failure of governance. Third, regional parties have the genesis of the caste factor.

On-demand side, Why people do vote on the basis of caste? – First, Due to weakness in administrations people voter people of his caste for getting work done. People think that representatives from his/her caste can help in getting their works done. Second, Analysts like Yogendra Yadav claims that lower caste asserts their rights through casting vote on caste line. Intellectual intellection keeps this topic debated and makes it relevant to ponder upon. He claims ‘Mandal Commission and the emergence of caste factor as democratic upsurge.’

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Third, Other Dalit scholars like Kancha Illaiah call Dalit-based politics in particular and caste-based politics in general, is a way of expression of socially marginalized people. It provides bargaining power in electoral politics. Fourth, the Role of media and analysis based on caste equated further deepened caste-based politics. During the 2019 general election, almost all political parties were equated with either caste or religion equation. Thus, political communication by media is also done through the language of caste politics.

Fifth, Individual factors behind caste are that people have been programmed on the caste line. Some of the people are closely associated with identity whether it is caste or religion. Thus, political socialization has also been done on the caste line.

Impacts due to caste politics

Caste politics in India has implications in different spheres. It is alleged that politics based on caste distract people from developmental causes. Since development won’t become the agenda of election it creates regional disparities. It is also alleged that people are lured in the name of caste and suffer in society. Lack of development due to caste politics hampers the quality of life.

It is claimed by experts that caste-based politics affects administrations. People in the administration are witnessed as polarized on caste questions since, after all, they are also part of society. Such confrontations reduce the efficiency of administration and often lead to division in departments on a caste basis. It further leads to a lack of development and forces people to migrate and work in other states. A string of problems due to migration like overloading urban cities and mismanagement come hand in hand.

On one hand, Caste-based politics affect Indian society by diving people on the caste line. Sometimes it takes the shape of caste-based violence and crimes. For example, it is alleged that the Ranvir Sena in Bihar was created by upper-caste to fight against the Naxals created largely with lower caste people.

On the other hand, Some of the scholars working in the area of politics claim that caste-based politics is an expression of marginalized sections. It is also claimed that it increases the bargaining power of the depressed class and lower caste. A study by Christopher Jaffrelot, a French political scientist has published a research paper on caste politics in which he claims that before the 1990s, lower caste people were not properly represented. But post 90s representation of lower caste in general and OBC in particular continuously increasing.

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Contemporary situation

Caste politics appears in electoral politics in different shapes and sizes. In the last decade, it started from Meena protests in Rajasthan and Patidar protests in Gujrat. Violent protest of Jat for reservation and subsequently used in Haryana assembly election is one of the manifestations. The mass mobilization of Pattidars in Gujrat again brought back caste politics on the central table. It is also used in electoral politics.

In assembly elections in Bihar and UP, it is often argued by the leaders to shape the “Yadav Regiment” in the Indian army on the line of “Sikh regiment”, “Rajpoot regiment”, and “Dogra regiment”. However, with the emergence of the YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh on the issue of Kisan and development, AAP in Delhi on developmental agenda is diversifying caste politics in India.

Other signs like the Chhatisgarh model and Odisha model are of the development is fading caste-based politics in India. If caste-based politics is clearing and darkening the line between caste instead of erasing then it is against the vision of Dr. Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi’s Poona pact which was deemed to make India a casteless nation.

Ashutosh Varshney has rightly concluded in his study to redefine “us” from identity to development. The cast should be the mean instead of Caste and the Service should be the end goal of electoral politics.

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