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A case for caste-based politics in Indian elections

A case for caste-based politics in Indian elections


Anurag Milan

Recently, images from the 2019 elections resurfaced; some kids were appealing to masses with posters saying, ‘Don’t vote in the name of caste. You are choosing a leader, not your brother-in-law.’

The message, though intended to be progressive, is regressive on multiple levels. Let’s look at the positive side, on the necessity of caste-based politics in India, in the Bahujan context.

The caste system divided the people of the Indo-Aryan society into four main categories, originally. Now it has engendered over 6000 jatis, or castes across India. The problem is not only limited to Hindus, but the leprosy of caste has also spread its roots to multiple other religions in India like Islam, and Christianity among others. Thus, due to the presence of caste division in every major religion of the country, caste-based politics becomes relevant and important in the national milieu.

Before proceeding, one must clarify that caste-based politics is progressive only if practiced with a Bahujan outlook, i.e., it does not hold up if practiced by dominant castes, as it loses its representative nature.

Caste in Politics

Caste in politics takes multiple forms.

It provides a feeling of collectiveness by mustering caste sentiments and caste history (that may be of pride or of shared oppression). On one hand, the sense of pride is hollow, but on the other, the sense of oppression brings about a consciousness against oppression and ignites a collective struggle against the oppressor at a legislative level.

It ensures proper representative ticket distribution in elections; since universal adult franchise has insured ‘one person-one vote’, it is now a necessity for political parties to think about caste dynamics before distributing election tickets. Thus, caste-based politics has been proven necessary for proportional representation, especially for Bahujan representation which has been denied for thousands of years.

Politics in Caste

Politics in caste also takes multiple forms.

It provides opportunity for multiple castes to coalesce, and sub-castes to assimilate in order to form a larger collective body which commands greater political power and demands a larger accountability than isolated caste groups, e.g., Bahujan unity.

It leads to formation of new caste groups, which are not traditionally linked to the caste-system, i.e., formation of forward and backward classes. The formation of these new groups ensures unification of widely scattered caste groups to form a larger body, which holds greater power and demands a greater accountability too, e.g., other backward classes.

Analyzing common arguments against caste-based politics

It is often said that caste-based politics diverts attention from pressing issues like poverty, and development. Though true to a certain extent, it only happens when caste-based politics is being carried out by the oppressor castes; otherwise, what is a more pressing issue than under-representation of the majority population of this country?

It is often said that caste-based politics divides society. At first glance it may seem true but the point to be noted is that the society is already divided. As the slogan mention in the introduction says: one must not choose leaders on the basis of caste, but what about marriage relations? Why must one adhere to caste norms while choosing a spouse?

According to me, slogans like these serve the Savarna propaganda of preventing Bahujans from electing Bahujan leaders. Thus, though caste shouldn’t be the only factor but it can be a major one.

Importance of caste-based politics and the Bahujan Movement

In 1980s & 1990s, Manyavar Kanshi Ram was campaigning to unite the Dalits and Backwards across the country. He made efforts to ensure unity among different castes of the Dalits, and Backwards. It was his endeavor that the Backward and the Dalit castes should unite. He believed that the day the Dalit-Backward people of the country unite, no one would be able to stop them from ruling this country.

Manyavar believed Brahmanism was to be discarded at all costs; he believed that as long as there is Brahmanism, there will be discrimination in society. Also, the discrimination, according to him, is not limited to upper and lower castes only. It exists even within castes. He usually said that the people of Chamar caste should come along with other Dalits, the people of Valmiki Samaj should come along with Paswan and other Dalit castes. It was wrong that all remained confined in the shell of their respective castes.

Thus, by thoughts, writings, and speeches of Manyavar Kanshi Ram it is evident that without caste-based politics the Bahujan movement would not have been possible, and power would still have been centered around the Savarna castes. So, caste-based politics is necessary still as proportional representation. Manyavar proposed that “Jiski jitni sankhya bhari, uski utni hissedaari!”. But that is still far from reality.

Ambedkar’s Plea

“It is not enough to be electors only. It is necessary to be law-makers; otherwise, those who can be law-makers will be the masters of those who can only be electors.” – B.R. Ambedkar

Babasaheb wanted Bahujans to gain political power, which is only possible through caste-based politics and electing Bahujan leaders by Bahujans.


Anurag Milan is a student of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University (BBAU), Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.