ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Can Caste-Based Rallies Be Banned?

On 11 July, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court, comprising justices Uma Nath Singh and Mahendra Dayal, issued an interim order on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a local lawyer, Motilal Yadav, banning caste-based rallies throughout Uttar Pradesh (UP) with immediate effect and issued notices to the central and state governments, the Election Commission and four major political parties. The order created a wave of approval and a sense of satisfaction among people who are totally frustrated by the blatant promotion of caste by the political parties. To be politically correct, one after the other, political parties came out with customary statements welcoming the decision. The only party that stuck its neck out was the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Its leader Mayawati almost defiantly declared that the BSP “will continue to hold its caste rallies”, arguing that the rallies organised by her party were aimed at uniting people of all sections of the society, and not for any narrow political gain. It was interesting that the order had come on the back of the BSP’s Brahmin Sammelan held on 7 July in the state capital of UP.

While the BSP, according to the creatively devised strategy of its founder, the late Kanshiram, has been the trendsetter in the naked display of caste-based politics, caste-based rallies being just one component, there is no party that has not abused caste in its electoral strategy. Other parties might not have organised caste-based rallies as the BSP or the Samajwadi Party (SP) do in UP, but they too use caste calculus to the hilt in elections. The original sinner, the Congress Party, whose spokesperson in UP hastily welcomed the high court order, had barely a week before it sought a break-up of various castes in all the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies from its state units in preparation for the upcoming general elections. As such, one would rather wish that the abuse of caste should altogether be outlawed. This order may thus be regarded as a welcome step in that direction and hence be commended. But the question arises, as some legal luminaries (see, for instance, J Markandeya Katju’s comment, “The Need for Judicial Restraint”, The Indian Express, 17 July 2013) doubted, given the legitimation of castes in the Indian Constitution, whether such an order would be tenable and, more importantly, actionable.

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