Role of Caste in Indian Politics-Caste is a social category established in a hierarchical order; It has derived its legitimacy from the classical Hindu scriptures (Brahman texts). Caste originated initially in the form of ‘Varna’, which divided society into four occupational categories. Caste is a symbol of traditional society, a closed system where generation after generation of individuals do the same work and live the same life.
Caste as an institution is embedded in Indian society, it has changed and molded itself to fit modern democratic polity. Along with caste, casteism, and casteism have never disappeared in India. As Rajni Kothari has effectively pointed out, the politicization of caste in India has shaped the nature of Indian politics to a large extent. He proved that the politicization of caste is a two-way process. Caste needs politics as much as politics need caste.
Role of Caste in Indian Society:
Caste plays a very important role in shaping the nature of Indian politics. Caste and politics have become integral elements of Indian politics. Theoretically, caste and democratic politics represent opposite value systems, as caste is hierarchical while democracy thrives on the equality and freedom of the individual. Despite the contradictory nature of its value systems, caste has left its mark on the Indian political system.
Politics is a part of society; It cannot work in a vacuum. It is influenced by innumerable social forces, caste being one of them. Caste influences political attitudes in the following ways:
- Caste as a social stratification system has influenced the socio-economic and political landscape of society.
- Political Socialization: Caste values and caste interests have determined and changed political thinking, awareness, and public participation to a great extent.
- Nomination of candidates: Caste has influenced the nomination of candidates due to the process of political socialization and caste consciousness has increased among the people.
- Effect of caste on political campaigning of parties: Political parties take into account the caste affiliation of candidates while nominating candidates from particular constituencies, and the campaigning of parties is also largely determined by caste.
- Caste and Voting Behaviour: Votes are sought on the basis of caste. Caste determines and shapes the nature of election campaigns and voter turnout.
Caste, as we see it, is an essential component of Indian politics, its influence on politics and society in general, has positive and negative effects on the nature of the Indian Union.
The positive effects of caste on politics are as follows:
- Caste Unity: The feeling of caste unity has increased in the last hundred years. Educated leaders collected money to help the poorer members of the caste, organized caste conferences, and built caste hostels, hospitals, and cooperatives. GS Ghurye argued as early as 1932 that while the attack on caste hierarchy was not the end of caste in India, it had generated a new sense of ‘caste solidarity’ which could be described as caste patriotism.
- Caste Groups and Alliances: The British government under its rule made a lot of concessions to the people of the backward classes in India. To take advantage of these opportunities, traditional caste groups allied with each other and thus formed larger institutions. This laid the foundation for caste groups and alliances that mobilize and consolidate people of the same caste even today.
- Caste and Empowerment of the Disadvantaged: It has given an opportunity to the people from marginalized communities to demand their due share in power. Caste politics has given people from Dalit and backward castes better access to decision-making. Caste solidarity has turned into their safety net, guaranteeing them better representation.
- Caste as a cohesive force in Indian politics: It is a source of unity among group members and acts as a cohesive force.
- The prevalence of caste politics in India has paved the way for legislation to protect the rights of the underprivileged and marginalized. For example the Protection of Civil Rights Act of 1976.
- Caste-based political parties are also addressing the problems of lower caste people, thereby mobilizing them and making them politically aware.
- Caste associations have also played a role in spreading the culture of democratic politics in areas that were previously governed by tradition.
- Caste associations also act as pressure groups that reinforce the views of people belonging to lower castes and give them their due representation in the political arena.
The negative effects of caste on politics are as follows:
- Caste as divisive in Indian politics: Caste has often led to unhealthy struggles for power and divided society into various caste groups.
- Increase in social and political tensions: Provisions guaranteed for the protection of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have led to discontent among other sections of society, leading to an increase in social and political tensions.
- Regional political parties are also supporting dominant caste groups and mobilizing people on the basis of caste, thereby disrupting the sense of harmony and togetherness in Indian society.
- The caste factor has also influenced the policies and decisions of the government. They favor dominant caste groups and frame policies in favor of these groups, thereby alienating the vast majority.
- Caste politics also goes against the ideals of democracy which claim equality and solidarity. Caste politics can also divert the attention of the government from burning issues like poverty, development, and corruption to caste violence and tension.
Caste is constantly evolving and constantly changing its dynamics in relation to Indian politics. As Sudipta Kaviraj says that the process of churning of caste phenomenon goes on continuously in India. Its base and modus operandi are constantly changing through electoral politics, economic development, and cultural change. Indian constitution has taken many steps to promote equality and put forward concrete measures like the reservation for scheduled castes and other welfare measures for the minority class, these measures have certainly made some impact but the institution of caste has not died yet.