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Casting Votes: Need For A Caste Census?

The Indian Caste system which has existed for a long time has had a significant role in shaping the identities of Indians. The segregation based on caste has led to discrimination and inequality. Caste-based injustices in India have led to several movements challenging them. These movements have made people more civil toward other members of their caste. India should be commended for its continuous efforts to eradicate this system and as a result, many of the lower castes have benefitted from it.

Although public purification rituals related to caste status have somewhat diminished, behind closed doors and on significant ceremonies, they continue to be observed.[1] It is unfortunate that even after seventy-five years of independence, caste still holds a strong grip over the Indians as it plays a vital role in the country's social and political interactions. Caste has become a means to access power and resources. It also has become a very sensitive issue, especially in electoral politics.

The election campaigns, the posters, the manifestos, and the agendas of political parties revolve around the issue of caste. Not only this, the candidates for constituencies are nominated by the parties keeping in mind the caste of the candidate. It is an important determinant of the voting behavior of the citizens of India and the electoral politics revolves around creating a vote bank based on caste rather than addressing other important issues.

Caste Reservations
Post-Independence, India's constitution makes use of state power to eliminate caste-based discrimination. The reservation of legislative seats for the SCs and STs was among the primary methods used to address discrimination. According to Articles 330 and 332 of the Indian Constitution, seats should be reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Schedules Tribes.[2] The parliament has renewed these reservations even though they were supposed to be short-term remedies.

The reservations introduced on the recommendations of the Mandal Commission have resulted in the emergence of regional parties. The rise of these parties has made the marginalized caste more significant. For example, the SP, JD (U), RJD are generally identified with the OBCs,

the BSP with the Dalits or the BJP with the high castes and these parties continuously make efforts to maintain their vote bank and keep them satisfied.

Voting Behavior
Voting behavior explains the factors which influence a voter while casting their vote.

Why do voters vote for a particular candidate? Is it his views on the social, economic, and political situation of the country? Or is the strong, charismatic personality of the leader?
Election studies have been conducted since the first general election of 1951-52 and according to them, there are various determinants of voting behavior such as religion, caste, class, etc.

The political parties focus on these determinants instead of their ideology to attract voters and even the voters cast their votes because of these determinants. Analysts of India's politics have observed that Indians vote their caste while casting their vote. As a result, the process of the development of the country is hindered because instead of voting for qualified candidates, the country chooses those who only serve their own interests.[3]

The caste system determines the social positions to elect and to be elected because the ones with a lower rank in this system are considered incapable of providing social protection and on the other hand, they need to feel protected. The candidates who belong to the same ethnic group or identity influence the attitudes of voters. The voters are bothered more about the social attributes of a candidate, mainly the caste. As a result, it becomes the main determinant of voting behavior.[4]

Criminal Links Of Politicians
Research has shown that the candidates representing a caste or community have public support even after being linked to criminal activity. Parties generally select a strong candidate who can make caste-specific appeals. These politicians are seen as people who can protect the interests of their communities by any means necessary.

For example, the work of various scholars reveals that Yadav political leaders in Uttar Pradesh, OBCs in Bihar and goondas in Gujarat establish the link of how criminals prove their credibility to their community.[5]

But, how can criminality be linked with credibility?
A strong candidate signifies a powerful man who is fearless and feared by people. They wear their criminality as a badge of honor. They are self-claimed " Robin hoods"  who cater to the needs of their community even if they have to do something bad.

A criminal candidate who belongs to a particular caste is seen as a credible person because of his ability to bend the laws to suit his group's interests. Such a candidate is also feared by his opposition.

A community that has always been looked down upon, not been represented, not been heard needs a strong person who has the power and resource to fulfill the demands of that group. It is considered essential because only that person will be able to bring honor and status to the community. The people of a caste need a representative who understands the requirements of their group and they believe that only a person who belongs to the same caste will be able to do so.

An example can be Udai Bhan Karvariya, a state politician belonging to Uttar Pradesh who won elections even though he had a criminal record. He claimed that he would use this power for the well-being of the upper caste Brahmin population. These Brahmins were affected by the backward caste who had recently acquired power and one of the Brahmin supporters thus called him a " rescuer" .[6]

And thus, caste plays an important role in political participation in India. Even today, when the country approaches a new round of state elections, most political parties are preparing their strategies. Data about the caste and community is being collected, the local caste leaders are being identified to find a suitable candidate who has the maximum chance of winning.

Conclusion
Post- Independence caste has played a significant role while casting votes. Among other reasons, another reason could be the lack of information about the qualifications of a candidate or the lack of knowledge as to what factors should be kept in mind while casting votes. But once in a while, a section of a caste supports other parties than their original choice. This is an outcome of dissatisfaction with their usual choice.

For example, in UP, in the 1990s, many OBCs had supported the BJP and even in the early 2000s, several high castes - Brahmins and Rajputs, supported the BSP and the SP.[7] It was reflected in the 2014 general elections that the impact of caste has slowly come down and that could be because of the emergence of new variables i.e., class and religion. However, that is only at the general level.

Caste still holds the same position at the Jati level and therefore after 2014, BJP had tried to win over the lower castes by creating multiple strategies.[8] Therefore, it can be concluded that despite the adoption of democratic values which conceive of a society free from casteism, caste continues to characterize politics in India and the voting factors of the populace.

End-Notes:
  1. Manali S. Deshpande, History Of The Indian Caste System And Its Impact On India Today, (2010), https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1043&context=socssp/
  2. Ind. Const. Art. 330 & 332
  3. Ahmed Usman, Shabbir Hussain, Muhammad Usman, Caste and Character of Candidates, Political Patronage and Voting Behavior in India, (December, 2017), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322159376_Caste_and_Character_of_Candidates_Political_Patronage_and_Voting_Behavior_in_India
  4. Determinants of Voting behaviour, https://egyankosh.ac.in/bitstream/123456789/66628/1/block-2.pdf
  5. Milan Vaishnav, Caste Politics, Credibility, And Criminality: Political Selection In India, (September 29, 2011), https://casi.sas.upenn.edu/sites/default/files/iit/Caste%20Politics%20-%20Sept%202011.pdf
  6. TOI. (n.d.). BJP MLA Udai Bhan Karwariya News: Latest News on BJP MLA Udai Bhan Karwariya - Times of India. The Times of India. (March 29, 2014), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/topic/bjp-mla-udai-bhan-karwariya/news
  7. Jaffrelot, C. Lok Sabha election special: Do Indians vote their caste? India Today. (April 19, 2019), https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/cover-story/story/20190429-do-indians-vote-their-caste-1504678- 2019-0419
  8. Afroz Alam Associate Professor and Head. The caste politics curse that India just can't shake off. The Conversation. (October 6, 2017) https://theconversation.com/the-caste-politics-curse-that-india-just-cant-shakeoff-84216

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