Caste was involved in politics from the ‘Vedic age’ in India about 5000 years ago.
- 100% reservation for upper-castes in education
- caste-based reservations from Vedic age – brahmins only for the priest, kshatriya for kings…
- special privileges – brahmins cannot be killed
- brahmin male can marry anyone, any number of times. others can’t
- lower-castes cannot come into villages
- lower-castes cannot drink water from the best water resources in the village
Caste in Indian society refers to a social group where membership is decided by birth. Members of such local group are endogamous, i.e. they tend to enter into marital relationships among themselves. They often have related political preferences.
For political/government purposes, the castes are broadly divided into:-
- Forward Castes (about 15% of the population)
- Other Backward Classes (OBC) (about 41% of the population)
- Scheduled Castes (about 20% of the population)
- Scheduled Tribes (about 9% of the population)
The Indian Muslims (13.4%), and Christians (2.3%) often function as castes since they too marry among themselves.
Access to power
In rural North India, upper and middle-ranking castes dominate the ownership of land. They were able to transfer this control over wealth into political dominance over the Panchayat decision. The Panchayat is a local government unit that is in-charge of resources disbursement. The dominant caste groups monopolised leadership positions in the Panchayat, thus gaining more opportunities to government contracts, employment and funding.
Politics in India highly depended on patron-client ties along the caste lines during the Congress-dominating period. The caste that one belongs to serves as a strong determinant of his or her voting pattern.
In India, different political parties represent the interests of different caste groups. The upper and merchant castes such as Brahmin, Rajput and Kayasth and the rich Muslim groups tend to express their interests through the Congress Party. The agrarian middle class such as the Jats tend to vote for the competing parties. Numerically minor parties, represented by the Jan Sangh, receive votes almost exclusively from the upper and trading castes (ibid). However, caste does not solely determine voting behaviours. Discrepancies occur, especially for the upper caste groups. (ibid) This means that not everyone from the same caste would vote for only one particular party.
The upper caste people have more freedom to vote for political beliefs. The Mandal Commission covered more than 3000 Other Backward Castes. It is thus not clear which parties are associated with each caste.
Drama Begins From Nehru Era
By the early 1990s, there began a shift in caste politics. The continuation of a one-party system, which was the Congress party, composed mostly of upper-caste leadership, came to an end. This was partly due to economic liberalisation in India which reduced the control the state had on the economy and thus the lower castes, and partly due to an upsurge in caste-based parties that made the politics of lower caste empowerment a central part of there political agenda. It should be pointed out that these new political parties emerged not on a national level but on a village and regional level, and were most dominant in North India.