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Caste-ing Votes

Caste-ing Votes

February 19, 2012

First regional quotas, then caste based quotas, now quotas based on religion? How much more must the right to equality suffer?

Many would have imagined that the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh (UP) would have been fought on the burning issues of corruption, education, and poor health conditions. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The issues on which the election battle was fought were caste and reservations and quotas and sub-quotas and sub-sub-quotas!

A reservation based society has two fundamental problems. Firstly, it abuses the very right to equality assured to its citizens by the Indian constitution. Secondly, it shows the indifference of the government’s attitude and its inability in creating grounds for an overall development.

While elections themselves cause the slowdown and almost shutting of government functions and other economic activities in an area, contesting elections on communal grounds causes a lot of hidden social turmoils.

UP is politically the most important state in India. Let’s not forget that 80 Lok Sabha seats belong to the state of UP, the highest number in India, followed only by 48 in Maharashtra. And therefore the way elections were contested in UP by and large reflects how elections are contested in India.

Guess how each of the major parties contested the elections in UP? Well, there is no doubt that, like every year, the Bahujan Samaj Party contested elections by pleasing the Dalits of the state. While Congress eyed the Muslim votes with a promise of a subquota, Samajwadi Party projected it as a reduction in the 27% quota available to Yadavs and other dominant OBC castes. Bharatiya Janta Party hoped to consolidate Hindu votes by highlighting this as an attempt of Muslim appeasement by the Congress party. None of these parties, for once, even mentioned the overall development and welfare in the state.

The problem of caste based politics in India is not new. Immediately after independence, the status of minorities posed a dilemma even to the makers of the Indian constitution. While a uniform civil code was desired and needed to impose the right to equality among all the citizens, a temporary measure was also advised for Indians to be able to rise beyond their barriers of caste through education and knowledge. Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the man behind the drafting of the constitution saw the quota system as solution to this.

However, he couldn’t foresee the political selfishness and greed of the forthcoming generation of politicians. The quota system that was supposed to be eliminated after a few decades of independence was extended over and over again, and these quotas were increased from less than 15% during independence, to close to 50%, in order to lure voters into caste based politics. A rich man’s son in India can now get a quota in primary education, college level, and then into the job market, solely on the basis of his caste.

In the USA, the hardships and racism that black Americans faced at the hands of their fellow countrymen were very similar to the plight of Indians from the lower caste. They too, were not allowed to study in school and colleges. Public transportation and restaurants provided segregated areas for them too. However, the way their problems were addressed was different form ours. While Indians adapted the path of reservation and quota, Martin Luther King Jr. never asked for any special privileges. He fought for the right of African Americans to be treated equally like any other American citizen. The outcomes are in front of us. While the African Americans of the USA have progressed since then, India has tied itself tight with the shackles of caste and community.

It is high time politicians and community leaders realize that they are playing with a fire that can divide this nation further and turn communities against each other. The great country was divided once on the basis of religion and suffered the misery that it is yet to be overcome. Why can’t the reference of caste or community in the open be constitutionally banned and instead direct the efforts to the right education and development of the people?

The new drama of extension of job reservation to Muslims threatened to add a newer dimensions to differentiated citizenship in India. This nation has suffered for thousands of years bearing the burden of separate identities, be it of religion, community, or caste. We have to end this practice before it cripples our dreams of becoming a strong and united nation. As long as there are community-based quotas, there will be politics around them. It is high time we look at the problem from another perspective.

The remedy does not lie in perpetuating reservations but in finding a more effective way of opening up opportunities for all. Instead of fighting over shattered slices of a small pie, what is needed is the expansion of the national pie which would entitle everyone to get their 'equal' and larger share!

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  • hpb
    28.09.12 09:56 PM
    There is also a provision of review of reservation but how many reviews have we seen; supreme court famously said that if the policy of reservation is effective why is it that number of people covered under its umbrella is on a rise .because somebody(read Politician) found it as an instrument to perpetuate the great british way of ruling "Divide and rule:
  • manoj a
    manoj a
    22.02.12 12:19 AM
    Thanks to supreme court verdict otherwise 100% reservation like Lebanon Then an Indian with out relegion and cast cannot survive
  • Joseph James
    Joseph James
    20.02.12 10:13 PM
    Coming from a seasoned columnist and perhaps the only specialist in political matters on the NRI panel, the analysis of the caste scenario in India and its significance in electoral politics is surprisingly naïve and superficial. The author merely echoes the sentiments of the man on the street. It’s pretty obvious that he hasn’t been able to crack the ‘caste cube’ which is certainly more daunting than the Rubik’s cube he holds in his hand.

    Castes are not a creation of the politician. He merely makes use of an existing phenomenon to his advantage. An Indian politician is undoubtedly ruthless and unscrupulous when it comes to grabbing power. He has his ear to the ground and will use any fault line to achieve his goals. But it is wrong to blame him for the perpetuation of the caste system in India. Deeply entrenched in the Indian psyche, caste system would survive with or without the quota system,. Every aspect of living – christening, eating, marriage, burial/cremation – is governed by caste. Does the author really believe that putting an end to the quotas and caste-specific manifestos will wipe away an entity that has flourished in the country for thousands of years?

    In fact, the quota system has done a great deal to remove the inequities created by the caste hierarchy. Traditionally, the Brahmins , the Kshatriyas and the Banias have shared religious, political and economic power between them leaving nothing for the others who ironically constitute the majority. The quota system has corrected this imbalance to a great extent. To quote one instance, the Meenas and Gurjars of Rajasthan used to share the same economic and social status a few decades ago. But thanks to the ST status accorded to them, the Meenas have now become one of the most advanced and powerful communities in the state. And that is the reason why the Gurjars under the leadership of Kirori Lal Bainsla have cast their lot with the BJP and are making a determined bid for reservation.

    Most castes and communities try to work out a quid pro quo with the parties during elections. In UP Kanshi Ram was able to place a Dalit in the CM’s chair by manipulating the caste equations at the hustings. And Mayawati’s occupation of the most powerful chair in the state has restored pride, dignity and self-respect to the hitherto neglected classes in the state.

    One can understand the rage against the quota system. But it is a system that has worked. It has brought about a social transformation in several parts of the country. The author’s contention that it is the privileged among the lower castes who bag the benefits of reservation cuts no nice. Their presence in the decision making bodies will impart a pro-poor slant to policy formulation. Moreover, what is the alternative? Affirmative action? It won’t have the desired effect in a developing country like ours due to paucity of resources and all pervasive corruption. As Rajeev Gandhi famously observed, only 6 paise out of the rupee set aside for the poor reaches them. Hence it is wrong to compare India with the USA. The latter has the wherewithal to take care of its downtrodden. Moreover, the Afro-Americans are a miniscule minority there. We are talking in terms of millions here.

    As long as the Indian electorate continue to vote their caste, rather than cast their vote, the politicians have no choice, but to play the communal and caste cards.
  • Bharat
    20.02.12 04:30 AM
    Missing the point!

    Reservation is not about upliftment of backward, but how politicians pocket money instead of creating resources for everyone.

    A politician who benefits from a citizen's backwardness, will ensure it continues to benefit from it again!
  • Sampada
    19.02.12 08:41 PM
    Awesome post!! true that my forefathers discriminated against a caste or castes; but does that mean, to do justice to those castes, we should made to suffer??
  • shirish patwa
    shirish patwa
    19.02.12 07:43 PM
    I can not agree more.More than six decades and still we are harping on quotas and reservations.As if we have decided not to learn from history.First of all,Minorities remained backward not because they were differentiated against.Why do we forget before Britishers came to India we were ruled by Muslim Rulers only for centuries.That community does not want to come out of cocoon and accept the modern way of life. Under the circumstances no percentage of quotas will ensure their progress.Unfortunately,the oldest political party i.e. Congress is raking up this issue for petty electoral gains.It is the worst communal outfit we have had.What stopped them in the progress of that communities when they were/are in power?Shameless party!By now we should have learnt that we can achieve progress of any community in isolation.It has to be simultaneous and dedicated effort.
  • Rajpriya
    19.02.12 10:49 AM
    Correction please Read as:


    but to keep It’s head above water......
    However irrational it may sound......

    Thank you
  • Rajpriya
    19.02.12 08:07 AM

    A very accurate assessment of the Indian caste based system. India is too deep rooted in not only a caste based cast system but It’s head above water with North South and Religious divide clearly highlighted in this post and all other hidden hurdles. It only proves an old Indian adage To Stand Tall in India, Cut all the Heads of People You Hate.

    To me it seems like a democratic system would never bring the desired result of India call all its people Indians ever. However irrational it may seem the model that would be ideal for a United India to cast all the present selfish and corrupt political motives aside to become a powerful nation consisting only of Indians is the Chinese Model, for all else would miserably fail.

    Sorry about that but someone has to say it and Loud. God Bless India!
  • satish
    19.02.12 06:05 AM
    Got it bang on! Identity politics has so badly subverted Agenda politics that one is fast losing hope in the relevance of the first-past-the-post system we borrowed from the British...time to re-boot and may be look at ate least the German and Swiss models, if not the American one...

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