We all know the famous tag line that is often associated with Indian politics – “You don’t cast your vote, you vote for your caste”. India is a culturally rich country. We have an array of religions, languages and cultures. Not to mention that the caste system has existed for centuries. Yet the vision of our leaders at the time of Independence was secularism. Our diversity should be our strength, not our weakness. But over the course of time politics became more about winning and less about public service, and our diversity became a tool for the politicians to pit us against each other.
Indian politics was easily about three things – Religion, caste and regionalism. Each National party had different candidates that appealed to all three vote banks. During the Congress led government (since 2004), the then marginalized and ghettoized Muslims were a major vote bank for them. When Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister, he appointed the Sachaar committee to collect data about the state of the average Muslim in India, who was shockingly underrepresented in the BJP led government. During the tenure of Congress, more Muslim MPs were elected and brought to the forefront. Thus Congress established a strong relationship with the Muslims. This, however, was not a new development as the Congress has been accused of harbouring a soft corner for the Muslims ever since the times of Nehru, followed by Indira Gandhi.
The BJP, on the other hand, has always been very vocal about its Hindutva ideologies. It’s many affiliations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (with it’s militant wing – The Bajrang Dal) are a testament to the fact. It’s history regarding it’s involvement in the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and then the Gujarat riots in 2002 is still very unclear and murky. Both the acts have still not been punished in the court of law. Under BJP’s tenure, Hindu majoritarianism took precedence over other minority groups. The Christians in Orissa were heavily attacked by the Bajrang Dal in 2008. When they retaliated, the Bajrang Dal reacted with even more violence, forcing people to flee from their villages. It was declared that only the refugees who converted to Hinduism would be allowed back in their villages.
In the 1990’s, the very infamous Mandal commission was established that declared a 27% reservation for all OBCs in the public sector. The upper caste retaliated with strikes and movements, because of which the OBCs were forced to come together in solidarity to protect their common interests. They began voting together and for their own caste, which was marked by Mulayam Singh Yadav’s rise to power in UP and Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar. Both these politicians took their politics to the home of a Dalit.
In the beginning of the 2000s, however, the OBC solidarity went down mainly due to the fact that both National Parties, namely – BJP and Congress, conjoined hands with OBC candidates and provided them with representation in relevant areas. In Madhya Pradhesh, all BJP Chief Ministers have been OBCs since 2003. Despite the disintegration of the OBC unity, Bahujan Samaj Party is still on a steady rise.
These facts converge to form one fact – in India, parties don’t manage to get a majority or even enough seats to exert any influence in the Parliament without Identity politics. Since it’s Independence in 1947, Indian politics has always relegated itself to caste or religion politics rather than focusing on real issues like poverty, illiteracy, healthcare, unemployment and crime. It is rather unfortunate that we, as a people, are never moved by the core issues that form the basic infrastructure of any economy, but are rather more invested in differences that, at the end of the day, are someone’s personal choices. ‘Power of voting’ is a powerful right only as long as the people are not manipulated or brainwashed into believing in one particular ideology only because it’s being perpetrated by the leaders of their own caste, religion or state. In that case, this power isn’t any power at all, but rather an illusion that makes us believe we’re voting out of free will.
With the grand sweep by the Aam Aadmi Party in the 2015 Legislative Assembly Elections in Delhi, people are now hoping that AAP will bring about a change in the face of politics and the focus will be on developmental issues. Whether or not it will succeed is a question that will be answered in the next 5 years, but here’s hoping that it doesn’t disappoint us.
Source: Religion, Caste & Politics in India by Christophe Jaffrelote