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

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The Dynamics of Lower-caste Politics

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The phenomenon of the politicisation of caste continues to be relevant in the electoral framework of Indian democracy. However, in recent times, the thrust of such politicisation has undergone a qualitative change. In the earlier phases, going back to the pre-independence period, those who were subjected to caste opression were compelled to use the caste-specific forms or vocabulary for mobilising the oppressed masses, while the content of the mobilisation was universal in its thrust. They were compelled to use the specific nomenclature because they were sceptical about the universal vocabulary such as the pro­letariat, that was being suggested then by the Indian left. Second, it was natural to use the vocabulary, that was experientially and empirically closer to the understanding of these masses. For example, Dalit and Bahujan thinkers and leaders, indeed, gave specific names to social organisations that were based on universal principles such as equality, justice, freedom, and dignity. Caste was used to push forward the agenda of justice, equality, freedom, and dignity of those who have been historically condemned to social degradation and political insignificance. Although the inner dimension of such mobilisation was egalitarian and, hence, universal, and its outer expression being that of particular, it did have the potential to remove the tension between the egalitarian content and the specific form that is historically conditioned.

In the present context of electoral politics, caste is available even to those political forces that stand by the religion that is the origin of casteism. The political parties with a communal ideological orientation have been seeking the support, for example, of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) and “non-Chamar/Jatav” Scheduled Castes in order to forge the winning combination in the previous assembly and Lok Sabha elections. Even on the eve of the Uttar Pradesh ­assembly election 2022, such parties did try to use tokenism by giving ministerial positions to several leaders from the lower castes. It is also true that these castes did allow themselves to be sucked into such an appropriation of their social base as it worked out to their rather personal interests. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seized the opportunity successfully to ventilate the sense of relative deprivation in its favour, which resulted from the perception that opportunities were unfairly cornered by some castes. This also meant that the political inclination—particularly towards right-wing political parties—was not the result of the attraction for the majority religion but resulted from the sense of injustice that in turn emanated from the unfair distribution of state benefits.

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Updated On : 22nd Jan, 2022

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