The pivotal role played by caste in jobs and in vote banks has inevitably led to the politicisation of caste. Historically, caste was based on the Varna system but after the Vedic period, caste has taken a mammoth shape of a Frankenstein, whereby some people are labelled as low or high in the caste hierarchy according to their birth in a respective caste.
Initially, successive governments tried to address this issue through quotas and reservation in jobs and education on the basis of social and economic backwardness. The most important step in this direction was the Mandal Commission Report and constitution of National Commission for SC and ST. But this bore unanticipated results because it ended up giving official recognition to the caste system which was hitherto restricted to society and lineage with its latent manifestations in marriage and social gatherings.
In my opinion, this created a race among the castes, with some portraying themselves as victims of the caste system and hence legitimising the caste system as an open menace. Even the dominant castes like Patidars and Gujjars who were of middle caste and had never been subjected to social or economic backwardness championed for their to claim caste-based reservations in education and jobs, based on self-perceived backwardness. This eventually led actual victims to get pushed to the edge and denied any privileges. This happened both between castes and within castes.
It also created a sense of insecurity amongst castes and led to the emergence of a caste army like Ranveer Sena. This sense of insecurity was leveraged by politicians who appealed to the sentiments of the people to win elections. The credibility of the contesting candidates and pertinent social development took backstage. Gunnar Myrdal in his Asian drama writes, politicians of all parties in their election campaign patently cater to caste sensitivities.
This segmentation is not new to Indian society because the Britishers brought about an improvement in communication which instead of decreasing the heterogeneity according to Srinivas increased the caste consciousness of the people and strengthened the caste-based associations.
According to Kothari, caste remains the principal base for social organisation. So caste becomes the basis for mobilisation in electoral and political activities. He puts it ‘It is not politics that gets caste-ridden, it is caste that gets politicized’. Rather, I think caste has now taken the shape of pressure groups to claim benefits for their respective caste. Caste has been crystallised with the emergence of caste-based parties like BSP -Bahujan Samaj Party.
If we take the composition of Indian society into consideration, we can say that caste will continue to influence politics and will remain embedded in our society in the religious sphere if not in the secular sphere.