March 17, 2014

Caste system and Politics go hand in hand , 16 - 31 March, Just In Print

Elections in India are fought with an eye on getting votes on the caste system which has its roots firmly fixed in the Indian social order.
Elections in India are fought with an eye on getting votes on the caste system which has its roots firmly fixed in the Indian social order. Side by side with caste system the question of reservations has become a major attraction for creating a vote bank during elections.
Political power, economic prosperity and social status were the exclusive privilege of the upper castes. This peculiar discriminatory caste system in India led to the growth of only a section of the society dominating the rest of the populace by depriving them of economic opportunities and equal privileges.

This led to the lack of unity among the Hindus who were divided into the Harijans, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Backward Classes and depressed Classes. All these sections of the Hindu society attribute the existence of their poverty to their exploitation by the upper castes that deprived them of equal opportunities in pursuing education and engaging in professions of their choice.

A law was passed to preserve the rights granted to the Scheduled Castes and also to remove the notorious custom of untouchability. Thus the caste factor became an important item of political agenda.

Reservations were introduced for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes to protect their in­terests. Seats were reserved in. educational in­stitutions and in job opportunities.
Reservation in educational institutions became essential as the Scheduled caste people had been deprived of the right of acquiring knowledge and education since long and it would be impossible for them to compete with the upper classes. Moreover, re­served constituencies were formulated to grant them adequate representation in political setup.
Article 334 of the Constitution makes a provision for the reservation of seats for Sched­uled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and nomina­tion of Anglo-Indians for a period of fifty years from the commencement of the Constitution. Thus, caste-based politics have become an integral part of the Indian polity.

The reservation policy is seriously resented by the upper caste Hindus. The caste system is responsible for social stratification and class distinctions. Caste-based politics cannot be wiped out due to peculiar social structure of India. Reservations, which is known as “Protective discrimination” is termed as ‘Reverse Discrimination’ by the upper Caste Hindus.

It is a shame that our politicians play such dirty games to ensure that their vote-banks remain intact. This new bill if passed will override Article 335 of the Constitution that says that the claims of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes have to be balanced with maintaining efficiency in administration. It was based on this that the Supreme Court overruled Mayawati’s attempts to bring in such a rule in Uttar Pradesh.
In a country like India, where economic disparities are large, the government should ideally take steps to help the economically disadvantaged. With improvements in technology and better identification of the needs of citizens through Aadhar and other schemes, the government can definitely do a better job at identifying and helping the economically disadvantaged (of all castes and creed) climb up the socio-economic ladder. We as citizens should also do our duties and be moral and not run for fake caste and income certificates. The enlightened youth of our country should take a pledge that they will not misuse the benefits given to them. It is only when we grow above such petty caste based issues that India can progress and develop on all fronts.
Now a very interesting question that has been posed is that when caste acts as a political faction and votes are caste in favour of a particular candidate on caste basis even then caste retain its character as a caste of becomes a political faction, thereby defying caste traditions.

Such a deep impact of caste on politics does not appear to be very healthy. If an unholy alliance between caste and politics continues then, it is feared that at one stage, security of state even might be in danger. G.S. Ghurye has rightly observed that, "Unholy alliance of caste and politics will surely jeopardies not only the peace but even the security of the country."

It is therefore; very essential that such an unholy alliance between caste and politics should be brought to an end as early as possible. It is however, fully well realised that only legal provisions will not serve the purpose. For this the psychology and thinking 0f masses will have to be changed.

The people will have to realise that the caste must be sacrificed for the sake of purity in administration and nepotism is to be wiped out both for national interests and security.
Time has come to question these deceptive political parties and leaders, whether the triumph of their parties is realistic or not? Lot of caste based political parties sprung to life across the length and breadth of independent India. No state has been vulnerable to this practice. Caste based political parties have initiated a brutal process of concentrating on the large vote bank of a particular caste. It’s disgraceful for every contender to the Parliament to claim their victory as a rational and satisfying to every voter in their constituency. Why are political parties trying to bank on support base of a particular caste? What made the political parties to opt candidates based on the caste?
Though Indian National Congress succeeded in keeping all the sections of the community under its umbrella for a couple of decades, by early 70’s caste based politics have sprung to life. From then on we have seen a vital change in the way the political parties approached the Indian voter. A particular section of the society when deprived of the progress and government aid, are left with not much choice other than to choose a candidate from their lot who can raise their issues at the national level. Most of the political parties during 80’s and 90’s succeeded in representing their section and decipher their tribulations. Almost all the sections considered to be backward have succeeded in drawing the attention of the ruling party to unravel their concerns. This is truly a positive sign to the political arena. But with time political parties got side tracked from their actual motto and started to indulge themselves in cheap political tricks.

Now the political situation in the country is very grim. If we analyze the manifestos of political parties in 2009 general elections, the agenda revolved around wooing the various sections of the society. Looks like this general election have witnessed more number of caste based political parties than the previous ones. We have also witnessed political leaders making inflammatory statements in open meetings. The election commission has succeeded in arresting the political parties from crossing limits to some extent but it could not wipe them out completely. Caste based politics are surely a negative phenomenon to the Indian political arena. Political parties and leaders should understand that caste based politics might act as a hindrance to the nations development.

One irony of Indian politics is that its modern secular democracy has enhanced rather than reduced the political salience of traditional forms of social identity such as caste. Part of the explanation for this development is that India's political parties have found the caste-based selection of candidates and appeals to the caste-based interests of the Indian electorate to be an effective way to win popular support. More fundamental has been the economic development and social mobility of those groups officially designated as Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes. Accounting for 52 and 15 percent of the population, respectively, the Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes, or Dalits as they prefer to be called, constitute a diverse range of middle, lower, and outcaste groups who have come to wield substantial power in most states. Indeed, one of the dramas of modern Indian politics has been the Backward Classes and Dalits' jettisoning of their political subordination to upper castes and their assertion of their own interests.

The Backward Classes are such a substantial constituency that almost all parties vie for their support. For instance, the Congress (I) in Maharashtra has long relied on Backward Classes' backing for its political success. The 1990s have seen a growing number of cases where parties, relying primarily on Backward Classes' support, often in alliance with Dalits and Muslims, catapult to power in India's states. Janata Dal governments in Bihar and Karnataka are excellent examples of this strategy. An especially important development is the success of the Samajwadi Party, which under the leadership of Mulayam Singh Yadav won the 1993 assembly elections in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, relying almost exclusively on Backward Classes and Muslim support in a coalition with the Dalit-supported BSP.

Though casteism in traditional sense in weakening in India, though the leader of our country have proclaimed time and again the caste is menace to our national life, caste plays an important role in Indian Politics. Adult franchise and Panchayati raj have given new opportunities to castes. Numerically large castes have become important pressure groups in local as well as state politics.

Unfortunately, in this country elections are fought and won on the basis of caste. Candidates contesting elections seek support from their castes. These leaders, thus elected maintain casteism even after election by showing special treatment to their caste members.  Political Parties in India sponsor candidates having social base, which is nothing but the numerical strength of a caste of candidate in the constituency.

Leaders at the village level cultivate ministers for privileges and for a variety of favor. The ministers in turn need the help of village leaders during elections. It seems tot be accepted principle that, in the state cabinet at nay rate, each major caste should have a minister. This principle is in the village Panchayat as well. Voting very often son caste basis. The local politics in village is dominated by caste. Each caste wants to get maximum power in the village set up. The groupism in rural politics is centered around mostly on castes and to some extent on class and other factors.

In Karnataka state politics there is rivalry between Okkaligas and Lingayats, the two leading present castes. In Andhra Pradesh the chief contesting castes are Reddies and Kamas, in Bihar, Bhumidars, Kayasth and Rajput.

Dravida Munnetra Kazngam (D.M.K) had arises as a non-Brahmin party of break the Brahmin cal dominance in Tamilnadu state politics. At present D.M.K and A.D.M.K are two non-Brahmin political parties in Tamilnadu and both the parties are in politically advantageous position in comparison with other political parties such as Congress and Communist in that state.

The highest expression of caste based politics is found in Bihar and U.P. is even today. The traditional caste rivalry between the Rajput, Kayastha and Bhumindar is found today among the political parties in Bihar.

Caste cannot be criterion to help the backward classes to come up because it is astrictive and because it helps powerful members of the castes to exploit the concessions for their benefits. Any attempt to exclude the advanced backward caste from backward castes appears impossible, because the advanced backward castes will desire to be in the list; as they are politically powerful their claim cannot be laid aside by any democratic government.

Although the politics in India cannot be explained entirely in terms of caste, caste is an important element in the politics. The caste influences political activity from Panchayat right up to Parliament. While the Caste System is breaking down in social and cultural fields; conflicts between castes are intensified by party politics.
The Supreme Court had tried in the earnest sense to provide reservations only to those backward classes who are in need of it by eliminating the so-called creamy layer from the privilege of enjoying reservation. But on the other hand, all other communities other than Scheduled Castes. Tribes and Backward classes are trying to procure the same privilege under the label of other backward classes (OBCs).
Thus people belonging to various castes and sub-castes in India are trying to inter into the arena of reservations. So the politics of reserva­tions in ending discrimination or perpetuating dis­crimination due to various trends in recent times cannot be definitely determined.

Let us think clearly and hope that the purpose of reservations will be ultimately to extend reservations only to uplift the really backward classes irrespective of caste or creed and to establish a secular, casteless, socialist and egalitarian society.
Siddhartha Shankar Mishra,

Sambalpur, Odisha


Decency is one of our defining national qualities, but it won't be for much longer if we continue to erode the living standards of people already doing it tough.

More than ever now Indian politics and debate needs standards close to those of advertising. It may be hard for Indian politicians to make statements whose intent is not to malign, but it will certainly generate greater interest in actual politics and governance if the public mention of an opponent or opposing party were to be made illegal. The act of continual accusation has made debate redundant in India. Every minister, MP, or party spokesman who stands in front of the television screen puts up a defense of policy that is an offence against the opposing MP seated in the same debate.
We’ve often heard the phrase ‘physician heal thyself’ meaning that doctors may have the ability to heal sickness in others but may sometimes not be willing to heal themselves. Being proud of his own knowledge and wellbeing, a doctor may ignore sound medical advice and allow his own personal disease to grow. This principle applies to leaders at all levels, especially to modern day politicians in a democratic set up. Some politicians could be nice and gentle but are they effective as National leaders is a million dollar question. They need to take some leadership lessons themselves as they lead a billion plus citizens. Without improving their own inner sense of worth, the leadership of the political class wouldn’t inspire others. As H.L. Mencken, one of the most influential American writers quipped, “looking for an honest politician is like looking for an ethical burglar.”

India, the world’s largest democracy suffers an overdose of populist measures, launched by leaders at the drop of their Gandhian hat. Besides, politicians are often seen to be corrupt, reckless and wash dirty linen in public. At such times, the politics of Manmohan Singh, the Indian Premier was lauded as ‘politics of decency’. His persistent refusal to indulge in war mongering or hurl ill names at his political adversaries has earned him respect and credibility. However BBC correspondent SoutikBiswas reveals this is history; in his recent article on Asia analysis, he reveals Mr. Singh’s government is now charged with graft and inaction. The Economist magazine has also declared, “Mr Singh has plainly run out of steam”.  It’s clear to many that Manmohan Singh’s personal decency is blended with his timidity; his nicety is now unacceptable as a substitute for inaction.  Knowing him to be a puppet in the hands of Mrs Sonia Gandhi, his decency lacks moral integrity and spiritual strength.  Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words ring in my ears, “Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty”.

Like advertising, a code of ethics for public life needs to be duly stated and politicians similarly told to refrain from disparaging comparisons, making no references to political parties other than their own. The American code of political ethics states: "No political representatives can malign the integrity of another on the basis of his or her position by using hostile or demeaning words. A political representative must withdraw him or herself from a position in which competence is lacking. A political representative shall not make any public statement which may be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity."

In retaliation Mani Shankar Aiyar makes a caustic, deliberately insensitive remark about Modi's humble origins, asking how a country like India can ever be ruled by a tea vendor. 

In return, the BJP says: "It's better to sell tea, than sell the country."BJP spokesmen also refer to Rahul Gandhi as Rahul Baba, a reference to his age and inexperience. No mother would want to sacrifice her son on the national altar. Modi launches a scathing attack on Sonia Gandhi's Italian origins; there are countless references to the Congress's foreign connections, Bofors, Quattrocchi, Swiss accounts, notions of dynasty. 

Finance Minister P Chidambaram and other netas have Modi phobia and they need psychoanalysis, said party spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi. Congress Minister Manish Tewari and Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, too, had a unsavoury exchange on Twitter. The nastiness does not surprise in the atmosphere of lack of mutual respect, and even self-respect. It has become par for the course in our political discourse.

While the West of India is progressing the rest of India is regressing. Modi fills the air waves with innuendo about Congress incompetence. People of India want track record, not tape record. The ugliness of Indian politics is in great part the outcome of negative campaigns, personal barbs and malicious vendettas that have little relevance to governance, but are consistently used to send subversive messages against an opposing individual or party. In a parliamentary system that encourages such destructive exchange, the real ideas of politics get submerged in the muck of words and personal sentiments. Not willing to be left behind, the Aam Aadmi Party too has gotten into the act.

Leaders are expected to be decisive; a leader needs to have his own independent thinking. His being a team player is not proved by his silent confirmation to the’ big boss ’ but rather by his ability to openly share his views with others. He is willing to confront his own team members and challenge the proposals, yet remains loyal and commits to the team’s decision.

A leader’s maturity is seen by his or her willingness to confront when credibility is at stake. Most timid leaders reconcile and compromise on principles just to remain popular or to please some others who may be fulfilling their material needs. The net result of such sycophancy leadership is you land up pleasing none; your friends eventually turn to be your detractors and you cut a sorry figure. Mr Singh’s former media advisor, Harish Khare openly declared, “Manmohan Singh may not be corrupt, but he’s definitely guilty of pursuing a politics of decency and elevating reconciliation to a matter of state policy”.Besides, feeble and vacillating leadership also brings suffering upon the very lives of those you are seeking to serve. That’s what is happening to Manmohan Singh and the Indian people.

“Politics has no relation to morals,” said Machiavelli. While we are endlessly swamped by reports of corruption of our netas, we must place their crooked shenanigans in perspective. Corruption was an integral part of politics in Machiavelli’s age many centuries ago. Our own Chanakya’s Arthashastra noted this fact millennia ago. When leaders and officials are left to manage public money, it is inevitable that they will pocket some of it, just like fish swimming in the sea imbibe some of the water. Meanwhile, only days ago in Uttar Pradesh, minister Shivpal Yadav claims he was mis-quoted telling officials, “If you work hard, you can steal a little.”

Freedom fighter N V Krishnamachari voiced the concerns of many of us in a recent interview. “We might term the British firangis or ‘white men’, but they ruled us based on laws... But what principles do today’s politicians have? Hardly any. We fought to get a nation to be ruled by Indians based on truth, ahimsa, human values... (But) the British did not trouble the public as much as our elected politicians do now.” The proof of his rueful words lies all around us. 

It's often said that freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin that if you want freedom, you must first accept the responsibility that goes with it.The truth is simpler. Freedom and responsibility aren't interconnected things. They are the same thing. Freedom is responsibility. Responsibility is experiencing the consequences of your own acts not the consequences of others acts or making others pay for what you do.

And that's what freedom is. Without government to force others to pay for your pleasures or mistakes, and without forcing you to pay for what others do, you are a free, responsible human being. We have to decide whether we want a nation of self-reliant individuals who improve their own lives by offering needed services to others or a nation in which everyone is responsible for everyone else and so the government must control every aspect of our lives. We don't need a moral revival, we don't need politicians making moral decisions for us, and we don't need more controls. If we want people to act more responsibly.There are plenty of people who won't act responsibly. There are people who have no regard for the consequences of their own acts. There are people who seem incapable of behaving wisely or nicely.

Meaningless shouting, sloganeering and protesting are futile efforts to express dissent. Today's youth is a beautiful concoction of good, creative minds with great insights. So why not choose creative means of expression as the key mantra?
Very often, the youth is misled and provided a wrong perspective. The confusion that leads them in a state of aggression must be addressed. Nobody is born corrupt, they learn it from their elders. Meaningless shouting, sloganeering and protesting is not the right way. The youth consists of good,creative people with marvellous brains, which is going to waste. The effort should be to provide them creative means of expression. One must take an individual stand and never indulge oneself into mindless protest. There are better options also.

Indians may call itself a "democracy" but it is only in name. And we are forgetting the key element to any functioning democracy, a free press that properly informs its citizenry. We have had neither for a long, long time.

Do we really want a society where we erode the living standards of people already doing it tough? Where we make it harder for people on a basic wage to put money away for their retirement? Are we really content to be fed a diet of misrepresentations, lies and half-truths about these matters, whether from politicians or a compliant press? I suspect most Indians would answer these questions in the negative. That being the case, we need to be vocal about the kind of decent society we aspire to, rather than sleepwalking into a society we don't recognise as ours.
Siddhartha shankar Mishra,

Sambalpur, Odisha