The largest state of India, Uttar Pradesh, goes to the poll next year. Political parties have started preparations, but what preparations you may ask. They are trying their level best to get the caste equation right. For a majority of the voters the performance or the non-performance of the government does not matter and the performers / non-performers know this pretty well.
The ‘caste’ unfortunately influences political activity in our country 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. Numerically large castes have become important pressure groups in local as well as state politics. Political Parties in India sponsor candidates having social base, which is nothing but the numerical strength of a caste of candidate in the constituency. Their service to the society is unimportant and their criminal background usually does not matter.
U.P is not the only state which suffers this malady. 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) emerged as a non-Brahmin party of break the Brahmin cal dominance in Tamilnadu state politics. Bihar and U.P. are champions of caste based politics. The traditional caste rivalry between the Rajput, Kayastha and Bhumindar is found today among the political parties in Bihar. The emergence of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati as Dalit messiah and that of Mulayam as the benefactor of Yadavs have polarized the post Mandal politics in U.P. and will continue to do so till a charismatic leader emerges who can, more by his deeds and less by his words offer employment, progress and prosperity across the caste divide.
Political parties utilize the support of caste for their functioning and seek their support in winning elections. The involvement of these castes organization in politics has changed their position in hierarchical pattern of Hindu society. Caste solidarity and political power have helped them to achieve higher social, economic and political success and become one of the most formidable elements of group formation within political parties in India.
Incidentally political process has a dual effect on the caste system. To the extent that caste and sub-caste loyalties are consistently exploited, the traditional structure is strengthened and to the extent that it leads to new alliance cutting across caste, it loosens the traditional structure. Caste enters the political process by making appeals to caste loyalties and thus engineering power shifts from one dominant caste to another or one caste/sub caste combine to another by articulating caste interests in an organized manner. From Kanshi Ram and Mayawati for the Dalits to the new kid on the block Hardik for the Patidars the pattern has remained unchanged.
Religion too enters the political chess in a very unique way and with almost one out of five votes belonging to a Muslim, they can be expected to be wooed by all and sundry. Appeasement of a particular caste and religion combine may lead to a winning combination and every political party will strive for this divine match making. But in the midst of all this the state of Uttar Pradesh has swung like a pendulum between corruption and lawlessness since almost last three decades. Much is expected from the aspirational India of today but in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar the thought process is still medieval and so the situation notoriously remains status quo. Whether this is good for the nation or not only time will tell. But if good and honest politicians fall victim like Abhimanyu to this chakraview of caste and religion and I wonder how it can be good for our future.