Read this article to learn about the relationship between caste and politics in Indian society.
Ideologically, caste and democracy differ from each other and cannot co-exist because caste advocates fragmentation of society whereas democracy stands for the unification of society.
Caste is leased on inequality by birth. Democracy is based on principles of equality.
Caste advocates social exclusion and democracy advocates social inclusion. Caste provides wealth, power and status to specific groups but democracy provides equal chance to all categories irrespective of bias. However, the peculiarity is that both caste system and democracy co-exist in Indian society.
In connection to democracy three things are happening to which caste system is also closely related:
1. Participation of all adults in the process of decision making, i.e. their voting behaviour. It means all caste groups without any consideration of high/low must participate in giving their vote.
2. Electoral campaigning through different methods. One of the methods is that the candidates appeal that he belongs to a particular caste.
3. Winning elections has become a principal means of gaining power.
In this political process, the dominant caste groups come to the forefront. For example – During 1955 elections in Andhra Pradesh, two dominant caste groups, Reddy’s and Kamma’s particularly contested in the election and were involved directly/indirectly. Kamma’s supported the communist party and Reddy’s supported the Congress party.
The relationship between caste and politics may be analyzed at two levels:
(i) How caste affects politics?
(ii) How politics influences caste?
Caste influences politics and political system influences caste. It is because both are interrelated.
Political System Influences Caste:
1. All political parties calculate caste support at the time of distribution of tickets.
2. Political behaviour also influences the caste people.
Caste Influences Political System:
1. Caste reserves its votes for its own members.
2. People prefer to vote for a candidate of their own caste irrespective of the merits/demerits of the candidate.
3. Leader of a particular caste prefers to select his own caste people in different posts.
Politics provides mainly three things to caste people:
1. Prestige and power.
2. Economic benefits.
3. Administrative patronage.
Caste provides, on the other hand, leadership to the political structure.
This leads to the following consequences:
(a) The leaders mobilise politics and its principles through their caste ideologies.
(b) The leaders are bound to give importance to the caste opinion.
Anil Bhatt’s study conducted in early 1970s may be taken as one objective basis for assessing the interest of castes in politics and awareness about political affairs.
Bhatt (1975) studied 1,713 persons belonging to high, middle and low castes including Harijans in four states:
UP, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. Bhatt’s analysis were in different fields.
1. Political interest
2. Political awareness
3. Identification with political parties
4. Political influence
Rajni Kothari (1970) studied relationship between caste and politics as a relationship for the specific purpose of organising public activity.
He did this in two ways:
(a) By examining the nature of relationship between caste and politics.
(b) By examining the type of changes that have taken place in the political system as a result of the involvement of caste organisations.
According to Kothari, caste has three aspects:
(a) Secular (relevance of caste in politics in terms of the relations within and between castes.)
(b) Integrative (castes being relevant to politics through differentiation and Integration.)
(c) Ideological (which is heightened by its value structure. This is where gestures for cultural mobility, such as sanskritization, westernization and secularization, assume or disguise political over tones in their manifestation.) These three aspects work together.
Different Stages in the use of Caste in Politics:
The use of caste in politics may be analysed in two different stages.
First Stage-Mainly two categories of people are involved in politics:
(a) High castes like Reddi (Andhra Pradesh), Pattidars (Gujarat), Lingayats (Karnataka), Rajputs and Jats (Rajasthan), and Kayasthas (Bihar) and Intellectuals with high social status.
(b) Lower castes and masses.
In this first stage, only three component of caste were involved:
(i) the power structure of caste.
(ii) distribution of economic benefits.
(iii) caste consciousness.
This stage is divided into three sub-stages and first sub-stage into three phases:
The struggle for power and for benefits was at first limited to the entrenched castes; that is those which exercise preponderant influence economically and politically but not necessarily numerically. In this sense it is different from dominant caste.
Includes ascendant castes
These caste groups have two characteristics:
(i) They are dissatisfied castes wanting higher roles.
(ii) They want to achieve high and prestigious position in the society through power.
There was not only competition between the ascendant and entrenched castes but also within these castes. This may be described as the stage of caste fragmentation or factionalism. At the end of the First sub-stage we find that high competition among different caste categories to acquire power and prestige in society.
1. Involvement of the mass in politics.
2. Entrance of leaders with some specific changes. These leaders have certain characteristics.
a. less modem.
b. Less educated.
c. More rural based.
d. Having innovative ideas.
e. Ability to organise people.
f. Capacity to take risks.
g. westernized leaders were replaced by the local leaders,
h. more importance is given to the leadership quality than western education.
(a) Achieved status is given more importance than ascribed status.
(b) Greater diversification of the base of politics.
(c) Different other factors, other than caste came into picture.
In this stage three important things occurred:
(a) A process of factionalism started within the entrenched caste group.
(b) A similar process started within ascendant group.
(c) A system of agreement and coalition also started in a condition.
The condition was that both fragmentation and coalition were based on caste system and caste identity.
Thus leads to two consequences:
(i) Some of the caste values were modified according to the rules and regulation of political parties. It was a politicized value system.
(ii) There was also conflict to acquire personal power which led to intense fragmentation of political parties.
In this stage there was:
(i) Weakening of older Identities.
(ii) Introduction of new values.
Due to the impact of education, technology, industrialization, urbanization, several changes are taking place in the society.
In the process of participation of caste in modern political system we find:
(a) Caste was exposed to many divisions.
(b) In the later stage there was a new form of integration. The result was a new system or scheme of universalistic- particularistic, relationships i.e. democracy/politics-caste relationship.
Effect of Caste on Voting Behavior:
Voting provides a periodic opportunity to individuals, castes and other groups to participate in politics. It is therefore, considered only an elementary act of political participation. But its implications should not be undermined.
According to Lindzey Gardener, the important factors which affect individuals voting behaviour are: campaigning. Issues at election time (like inflammation, corruption etc.) loyalty to party, mass media, primary groups, voters social background (Education, sex, age, religion, class etc.) and voters personality variables (intelligence, values etc.)
Miller (1950), Key (1955), Campbell (1960) have referred to four factors that affect individual’s voting behavior:
1. Demographic predictors (Religion, caste, class, residence etc.)
2. Party identification (whether identification is strong, moderate, weak and totally absent).
3. Issue orientation.
4. Candidate’s orientation (voter’s attitude towards candidate).
Norman Palmer (1976) has focused on four voting Determinants:
1. Environmental (setting of social system in which act of voting takes place).
2. Political (candidate, issue and party identification).
3. Social (family, kinship, caste and community).
It is concluded that all scholars have emphasized the role of social determinants on voting. D.L. Seth is of the opinion that political development relatively reduces the significance of social determinants. But people in India cu-e not yet politically developed. Four important social determinants in India have been identified as Family, Kinship, Caste, Factions and Communalism.
Mobilization of Castes by Political Parties:
How do political parties mobilise caste support?
Andre Beteille has discussed on the basis of his study of castes in Tamil Nadu in 1970’s. The problem of low caste enters into politics.
He describes the different ways in which caste enters into political process.
In this connection he refers to three ways:
(i) By making appeals to caste loyalties in a general way like exhorting vanniyas to vote for vannlyas.
(ii) By articulating caste interests in a organised manner.
(iii) By activising networks on interpersonal relations both dun elections and at other times for mobilizing support along caste lines.
Harold Gould (1990) In his study of the rise of a political party (Congress) in Falzabad district in Eastern U.P. found that right from 1905 onwards through various phases of 1905-1909, 1909-1919, 1919-1935, 1935-1947, 1947-1968 and 1968 onwards, the parties functioning by patronizing various castes like Brahmins, Kayasthas, Rajputs, Khatrls, Bannlyas, Kurmis etc.
Studying the above studies together, it may be concluded that political parties mobilize castes for their functioning and seek their support in winning elections.
Rajni Kothari (1970), while analyzing the problem of relationship between caste and politics, has referred to three different approaches of three types of people.
1. First he refers to those people who lament over the role which caste plays in politics and think that politics should be free of caste and casteism.
2. The second type of people who talk of association between caste and politics are those who think that political relationships are projections of social relationships and have no independent capacity to influence the social relationships.
3. The third type of people are those who proclaim the autonomy of either caste or politics or both. In this group there are great variations amongst the scholars. There are progressive economists who are committed to brand anything to do with caste as reactionary.
Ideologists who want to protect caste from any pollution of politics, political scientists who consider caste as an important political force in contemporary India and social anthropologists who though realise the importance of political forms yet feel compelled to protect the caste system by proclaiming the autonomy of both caste and politics.
The consequences as a whole:
(a) Caste is no more regarded as the only base of politics.
(b) Caste is used as a tool of political mobilization or articulation.
(c) Caste has decisive influence on political system.
(d) Simultaneously caste also has a new strength to form n new integration.
(e) Caste has the power to accommodate many groups and it acts as a cohesive element which absorbs tension and frustration.
(f) Emergence of a new elite structure in which the leaders are drawn from varied caste groups.
(g) Sharing of common secular outlook.
(h) Emergence of caste associations and institutions like caste club, caste conference etc.
(i) Emergence of caste federation composed of many castes having specific interests such as fighting to get reservation facility.
Therefore, in conclusion we find a new type of integration and the whole process is described as secularization of the social system.