That India has elections at the parliamentary, state or local body-level, is a striking feature of the world’s largest democracy. Being a diverse country, it’s also a fact that caste politics plays a major role in determining the verdict of an election.
A case in point is the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, India’s biggest state in terms of electoral constituencies. This diversity has also turned UP into a major centre for caste or divisional politics. The main players of UP are regional parties, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. It is said that the Yadava community backs Samajwadi Party whereas Jatavas or Dalits stand along with the Bahujan Samaj Party. National players like the Congress and BJP were also frontrunners in the first phase of the election, with the Congress creating alliances with SP and the BJP fighting it alone to try and repeat their national victory in the state.
Now, a very important question that arises here: Is caste based politics is good or bad? Some argue that it helps those who are born into lower castes to exhort power for their rights. But Article 17 of the Constitution abolished untouchability and caste based discrimination. The Constitution assures equality to all citizens. Hence, caste politics, which divides people, poses a great threat to the principles of the Constitution itself.
According to me, caste politics is a major factor responsible for the existence of the caste system in India. Political parties often project themselves as the protectors of some community and try to hold on to them as a vote bank. For instance, the Bahujan Samaj Party formed in 1984 as the voice of Dalits, focuses heavily on caste issues. When Manmohan Vaidya, Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh of RSS, said there was a need to review and put a timeline on reservations for scheduled castes and tribes, and other social groups, his remarks received a backlash from BSP leader Mayawati, who responded saying that “reservations would also be extended to the poor among upper castes.”
This kind of caste based vote bank politics fans the flames of division, and as a result, the negative perceptions of other castes remain in the minds of people, and the evils of the caste system remain with it. This is further perpetuated through the practice of choosing a candidate from a particular community, after comparing the percentage of constituents of different communities in the constituency. Unfortunately, Media and political analysts often use such data to predict the verdict of an election, which indirectly furthers political agendas.
Having been oppressed for decades, those belonging to certain communities see it as a way of making sure their voice gets heard in the corridors of power by choosing someone from their community. As long as caste discrimination exists in the country, which it surely does, to seek representation, such politics will continue even though it might only further the divisions. However, it’s negative aspects can be regulated through stricter enforcement of laws.
There is some good news, though.
The findings of the latest survey by the Centre for Study of Developing Societies in 2016 are a good sign that the tide is turning. The survey indicates that caste isn’t considered as an important election issue across demographics, and that people are thinking beyond it, at development and good governance. The hope is that in the upcoming elections, UP won’t vote only on the basis of caste and religion, but for the development of the state.
Adil AH is an intern with Youth Ki Awaaz for the batch of February-March 2017.