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ESSAY : Caste Politics in Elections
Saturday, 15 June 2013 04:56


Caste Politics in Elections

“Caste has polarized the national politics and caste politics breed caste parties. Not a single party, however, avowedly opposes casteism, is free from the dominate influence of caste. During election time when the question of number games becomes most important, candidates seek to mobilize the support of not only their own caste but also those belonging to backward caste and the Dalits.”

Caste is a gift of centuries in the history and its origin goes back to 3 or 4 millennia. It goes back to a past when like all other humans, the tribal Aryans roamed the plains of Central Asia before reaching India. The Caste-based stratification displays very different characteristics. To begin with, it is impossible to construct a uniform hierarchy of caste based on the notion of purity and pollution. No caste would acquiesce to its placement among the so-called ‘untouchables’. No caste would agree that members of other castes are made up of substance better than their (Gupta 2000: 72-85; see also Appadurai 1974). No caste would like its people to marry outside the community. No caste would like to merge its identity with any other caste. No caste accepts that it has originated from a shameful act of miscegenation. Any suggestion of being half-breed is dismissed haughtily across the board by all castes (see Gupta ibid).

Castes always differentiate themselves from other castes on multiple fronts: on how they get married, how they conduct their funeral ceremonies, the cuisines they cook and prefer, and even on the basis of gods that they each castes considers to be special to its members (Gupta 2000:77-85). Each caste has a clear idea of which caste it considers to be below it and which ones roughly equal. Endogamy, or marrying within one’s jati, is a strict rule that all castes hold dear. It is not at all true that poorer castes are less punctilious in observing their caste norms. Each caste inspires its own variety of caste patriotism for which reason jati puranas or origin tales are such an important aspect of their cultural legacy and heritage. All dominated castes explain their subjugation not on the basis of purity and pollution but on the basis of lost wars, chicanery and deceit by kinsmen and fair weather friends. Sometimes the Gods too are blamed for being fickle, inconstant and temperamental in bestowing their favours (ibid:73-78, 116-129).

Other castes had to acquiesce to this or face brutal consequences. They dared not express their version of the ‘true’ hierarchy. With the growth in commercialization urbanization and democracy, poorer castes are becoming bolder and now have the courage to openly express what they have always held dear but dared not manifest in any form in the past.

The distinguishing characteristic of the caste order is the discrete character of its constituent units that resist being forced into a single hierarchical frame. As these castes are discrete and semaphore their separation on multiple fronts, caste competition is built in at various levels. It is only by accepting the reality of multiple hierarchies go by the traditional understanding of a single hierarchy of purity/pollution, with Brahmans at the top, then any evidence of caste conflict should have meant the dissolution of the caste order.

It is not true that caste politics is a recent phenomenon. All through traditional and medieval India castes have fought and slaughtered each other to gain worldly preeminence. Once a caste is politically and economically powerful it can then live out its own believe-in hierarchy. This is as true of the Gujara Pratihara and Rajput kingdoms in medieval India (Chatopadhyaya 1976: 59-82), as it is of jat supremacy in Punjab several centuries later, and of baniya ascendancy in Rajasthan and Gujarat today (see Babb 1998: shah and Shroff 1975).

The difference between traditional and modern display of caste politics is not that there were no power struggles between communities in the past, but that the format for such competition and strife has now changed. Democracy and commerce have created new avenues that were not available to caste antagonists even in early colonial India.

If one is to understand caste politics in its vivacity and depth it is necessary to appreciate that in the caste scenario there are multiple nodes. Jats are against Gujars, together they are against urban castes; Kolis are against patidars; thevars oppress pallars or the devendrakula vellalas’ the vanniyars torment adi dravidas, even as many of the may be against, or for, Brahmans in their local setting (see Radhakrishnan 2001).

Caste alliances such as the KHAM (Kshatriy, harijan and Muslim) and AJGAR (ahir, jat, gujar and rajput) are made and then cast aside. New alliances come into being with quite different caste friends and enemies. Even as castes may enter into political alliances, however ephemeral, they do not drop barriers of endogamy, though they may occasionally ease up on inter-dining restrictions.

As castes operate on the basis of separation into discrete categories, which then fashions multiple hierarchies, the single hierarchy principle of race would be quite alien to it. Consequently, caste [politics would be imbued with a logic quite different from what obtains in racist politics. It is because many members of India’s literary did not quite appreciate this and perhaps unconsciously applied the race model to caste politics that they let the Mandal recommendations pass without too much opposition.

In the view of these pro-Mandalites, caste politics in India is really between powerful Brahmans and the oppressed rest, just as in race politics it is whites versus blacks. In fact, Brahmans do not always occupy the top spot in most hierarchies. And whenever Brahmans hold such a position it is because they have economic and political power to match. But this would still be a very small and a typical part of the entire caste and politics scenario. If caste politics is seen only in terms of superior Brahman versus the suffering rest then the atrocities thay yadavas inflict on ex-untouchables, what the vard do to pallars, and what rajputs did to the jats, would be unnoticed and brushed aside. This would impoverish and distort our understanding of caste politics in India and would allow for the intellectual acceptance of dangerous and retrograde policies such as those recommended by the Mandal Commission.

Caste has played very important role in the success of Indian Democracy by mobilizing India’s mass electorate to participate in the election process effectively and meaningfully. Use of caste for political purpose has begun long before the introduction of adult franchise. Organisation based on caste for social, economic and political system came into existence even before the Constitution came into force. The illiterate people who didn’t understand polities were mobilsing to organize themselves by appealing to their caste sentiments by the self-interested politicians.

The casteism has penetrated in India Politics so deeply as to shape and reshape not only the political parties but also their manifestos for the elections. The various caste groups, like Nair, the Christian and Ezhava in Kerala, the Brahmin and non-Brahmin in Tamil Nadu, the Khamma and Redday in Andhra, the Vokkaliga and Lingayatys in Karnataka, the Maratha and Mahar in maharastra, the Patidar and the Rajput in Gujarat, The Jan, Rjaput, Meen, Brahmin and Vaisy in Rajastan, formed likewise in all states and determine the political scenario in the states to a great extent.

In Bihar there is a communal triangle formed by the Bhumihara, The Rajput and The Kayasta. Caste politics in U.P. varies from region to region. The Thakurs from the majority community nurture strong anti Brahmin feelings. Not only the group among the caste, a strong lobby of Dalits and Non-Dalits further exists now-a-days with the active support of their so-called Dalit leaders, making propaganda, against so called Manuwadis or other castes.

Caste has polarized the national politics and caste politics breed caste parties. Not a single party, however, avowedly opposes casteism, is free from the dominant influence of caste. Even the national parties, whether Congress or BJP while allocating tickets to the candidates, allocating portfolios to the Ministers, a proper analysis of caste factor is made. Caste tends to determine electoral nominations, voting behavior now-a-days. Numerous castes have started making numerous demands, whether for reservation, or categories them in OBCs etc, vitiating the representative principles envisaged and emphasized under the democratic pattern of our country.

See the flagrant example of demands for reservation put forth by Gurjats, Rajputs, Brahmin and aisya communities in Rajasthan, at the eve of elections. Congress and BJP both parties have assured to fulfill their demands as per their capabilities. Several regional parties are avocation the justification of the demands made by these castes and communities, knowing well, that it is not possible to get any demand fulfilled before the elections but to fish in troubled water of elections.

Every government oriented its policies on caste lines as it was found most convenient and politically expedient keeping the caste factor in view not only while forming ministries but also while deciding the placement of individual members in Government organizations and institutions.

Caste which has a past of three thousand years in our country, can’t be abolished altogether so early. The future of democracy and the system of parties in this country depends upon the willingness of the society to change according to the demands of democracy. Illiteracy among the backward castes, poverty among the downtrodden, lack of awakening among the rural folk are some of the factors responsible for the prevalence of casteism in elections. The so-called Dalit leader or castes Headmen are encasing the votes of their members with their vested interests.

Political parties have an enormous role to play in the social a weakening of India on democratic pattern. Instead of being influenced by casted and their current interests they must endeavor to educate the people as per the ethics and demand of democracy and organize public opinion to regularize the progressive changes and withdrawal of privileges based on castes. For the real success of democracy, casteism is a big obstacle.