Impact of “Caste System” in the State Politics of India

The caste factor is so strong a factor in Andhra Pradesh that all the political parties, national and regional, communist and non-communist, formulate their policies, programmes and activities with reference to the caste factor. The electoral politics in Andhra is virtually caste politics. The Reddys, Kammas and Valamas constitute the three angles of Andhra’s political triangle.

The history of development of political parties in Andhra can be legitimately described as the history of the competition between the Reddys and Kammas. At one time, the delta region of the State and Rayalaseema were referred to as ‘Kamma Rashtra’ and ‘Reddy Seema’.

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In elections, the chances of success or failure of a candidate always depend upon his caste affiliations and his ability to use the caste factor for consolidating his support base and for dividing his opponent’s support base. Even regionalism within Andhra stands based upon the caste factor.

The Telangana issue is a caste issue in disguise. In the words of Prof. Srinivas, “The regional claims in Andhra are often only a disguise for caste claims.”” Prof. Harrison also observes that the role of caste in Andhra politics fully illustrates the big impact of caste on India’s representative institutions.

(b) Caste in Bihar:

In Bihar, one of the poorest states of India, the caste factor predominates the struggle for power. The Rajputs, Brahmins, Kayasthas and Adivasis constitute the four caste segments of Bihar Politics. The Rajputs and Brahmins, by virtue of their superior economic position and social status, have been, till very recently, dominating Bihar Politics.

The Kayasthas view the struggle for power as a struggle against the Brahmins. Caste Senas like Ranvir Sena have been playing havoc with Bihar social and political life. Election eve violence has been mostly a caste-based violence.

(c) Caste in Haryana:

Haryana is no exception to the general observation that the caste factor dominates state politics in India. The Jats, Ahirs and Brahmins constitute the three active caste groups of Haryana. ‘A Jat votes for a Jat’ and an ‘Ahir votes for an Ahir’ is an accepted principle and it guides the selection of candidates for various constituencies, the election campaign and the voting pattern. The Jats have tended to dominate Haryana politics and they are anti-Congress. The leadership of Choudhry Devi Lai rested upon the Jat support and his leadership pattern clearly reflected the typical Jat culture.

The Congress in Haryana mostly depends upon the support of the Brahmins and Ahirs. The organisation of ‘Gujjar Sammelans, Bishnoi Sammelans, Jat Panchayats and Brahmin Sammelans’ in Haryana fully demonstrate the big role of caste in state politics. Caste based electoral violence is a sad fact of Haryana Politics.

(d) Caste in Maharashtra:

In Maharashtra, the three dominant castes are the Marathas, Brahmins and Mahars. The Brahmins have the smallest percentage of the three and yet they have, by virtue of a high level of literacy and westernisation among them, played a dominant role in state politics. The Mahars (the people who belong to the so called low castes) constitute the largest part of the population and play a dominant role in state politics.

The Congress was successful in continuously maintaining its hold over the Mahars and this factor has substantially helped it to retain power, even in the 1990 elections, in which the Janata Dal enjoyed a strong position in other states of India, particularly in neighbouring Gujrat. The Congress fully exploits the dominant strength of the Mahars in planning and implementing its election strategy.

The Marathas constitute just 25 per cent of the population of the state, with the largest concentrations in Kohlapur and Satara areas. They also play a leading role in Maharashtra politics. The organisation and role of the Shiv Sena also demonstrates a caste angle in the state politics of Maharashtra.

(e) Caste in Karnataka:

Caste has deep roots in Karnataka politics. The main contending castes have been the Lingayats and Okkaligas. The Lingayats have managed to dominate the political scene for most of the time. From 1947 to 1957, the Okkaligas dominated the political scene but thereafter, the Lingayats have been dominating the political scene in Karnataka.

(f) Caste in Kerala:

The power struggle in Kerala reflects a struggle between the Nayars and Ezahavas. The Communist Parties of Kerala have used the caste factor to their advantage in getting the power to govern this small state of the Indian Union which has the distinction of being the most ‘educated state’.

Prof. Harrison has rightly observed: “The success of the Kerala Communist Party as the first regional Communist Party in India to capture control of a state government can be explained, above all, to its ability to manipulate politically strategic caste lobbies.

The Kerala Communists were able to transform economic despair into a legislative majority because of their footing on regional caste ground, notably among the numerous Ezahavas provided the necessary margin of block strength in the necessary number of constituencies.”

However, it must be pointed out that in Kerala, the caste factor has played a secondary role because religion has been the primary factor in state politics there.

(g) Caste in Rajasthan:

In Rajasthan also, the caste factor has been an active factor of state politics. The strong differences between the Jats and Rajputs have enabled the Brahmins to control power. The Chief Ministers of Rajasthan have been mostly Brahmins.

The Rajput support for the BJP was a major factor behind its success in the recent elections. However, caste and religion together and not individually act as the determinants of politics in Rajasthan. Gujjar Movement for securing reservations clearly reflects the role of caste in Rajasthan politics.

(h) Caste in Tamil Nadu:

The caste factor has been and continues to be the most influential factor of state politics in Tamil Nadu. The Brahmins vs Non-Brahmins have been a key issue. Initially, the domination of the Brahmins was sought to be checked by the formation of a Unified non-Brahmin Justice Party in 1917.

Its main aim was to prevent the Brahmins from getting power. For this purpose, even separate electorates for the non- Brahmins were demanded by the anti-Brahmin groups. The caste factor, later on, governed the organisation of the DMK and it played a role in its split which led to the formation of the AIADMK.

It played a role even in respect of the movement for Dravidian separation. As Morris Jones writes, “It can be said while caste loyalty is almost everywhere present as a factor of political relations, in a state like Madras (Tamil Nadu), the rapid rise of the non- Brahmins has not merely dominated the whole shape of Madras (TN) politics, but has in particular made a significant contribution to the movement for Dravidian separatism now (once) expressed by the Dravid Munnetra Kazgltam.”

The above account clearly illustrates the dominant role of caste in state politics. What is true of these states is also true of other states of the Indian Union. The Indian party system and the electorate clearly reflect the caste divisions.

The issues of Brahmins vs. non-Brahmins in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, Kammas vs Reddys in Andhra Pradesh, Jats vs Rajputs in Rajasthan, Jats vs Brahmins in Haryana, Banyas vs Pattidars in Gujarat, Lingayats vs Okkaligas in Karnataka, Ezhavas vs Nayars in Kerala, Jats vs non-Jats in Punjab, Yadavs vs Thakurs in Bihar, etc., reflect the dominant role of caste in Indian politics.

Caste loyalties and other ethnic factors and not ideological differences really divide the Indian political parties. Election campaigns are run along caste lines and poll violence is usually caste based violence.

While accounting for the role of caste, Prof. Srinivas observes that “the power and activity of caste had increased in porportion as political power passed increasingly to the people from the rulers.” Politics has become caste ridden and castes have got politicised. Caste groups use politics as a means to secure their interests. People belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes use politics to keep intact their constitutional protections and privileges or the reservation of seats, jobs and educational opportunities.

The political parties use caste divisions for nurturing their support bases in the society. Morris Jones rightly remarks, “The central discovery is that politics is more important to caste and castes are more important to politics than before.”

The educated and the illiterates, the rich and the poor, in fact, the people living in all parts of India still remain attached to their castes despite the liberalisation of restrictions on diet, marriage and residence.

The caste factor continues to be a determinant of Indian politics. The Rudolphs rightly conclude, “Within the new content of political democracy, caste remains a central element of India’s society even while adapting itself to the values and methods of democratic politics. Indeed, it has become one of the chief means by which the Indian mass has been attached to the process of democratic politics.”

The continued presence of caste-based political parties, caste associations and caste federations, caste tensions and conflicts, caste violence, caste-based leadership, caste based grassroots politics, caste based election campaigns and caste-based voting behaviour, all combine to compel us to observe that caste still continues to remain a factor of politics, particularly in some parts of rural India.

Under the impact of several factors, caste system has been slowly getting disintegrated and most of the people of India have been becoming less caste conscious in their relations. In work places and in the metropolis, the caste factor has almost ceased to be a factor of importance. Industrialization and urbanization have made it possible and essential for the people to rise above of their caste consciousness and to develop a new neighbourhood consciousness.

It is mostly during elections and in situations of aggressive party politics that caste factor continues to be experienced as a factor of voting behavior and electoral politics. However, here too a wind of change has started blowing.

In November 2010 the Bihar Legislative Assembly election results clearly reflected the lessened role of the caste factor in Bihar politics. In the recent past elections in Bihar used to be dominated by caste politics, caste voting, caste violence, caste-based social and political interactions and caste-based aggressive party politics. In these elections the people of this state of India clearly put behind the caste factor and gave priority to the need for security, development and prosperity.