Caste Your Vote or Vote Your Caste
Mayawati has won the elections in Uttar Pradesh with a thumping majority and once again analysts say it's the caste factor and maybe the 'Tilak Tarazu Talwar' equation that has played a major role in deciding the fate of over 400 assembly seats in the largest state in the country. One feels happy that in this country we finally have a Dalit lady becoming a Chief minister without support of some other party.
But why should there be a caste equation behind her victory.. Why can't she be elected purely for her performance as an adminstrator or as a politician...Caste seems to be the deciding factor in politics...But is it only in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana that caste plays a major role in politics? Is a state like Maharashtra truly progressive and secular in it's sociopolitical fabric and it's electoral politics? Well not really as one finds out time and again... It's the caste factor that rules here in Maharashtra too...And who's to blame for this...No not the politicians but its the voters ! They are the once who will vote candidates that belong to their caste.
As a journalist, one sometimes gets an opportunity to mingle with politicians at close quarters and gets first hand exposure to political processes. Though I for one, have no political ambitions, I sometimes wonder what chance a person like me stands in politics if at all I decide to enter the Frey ever. As a Saraswat I belong to a caste which can be called a minority in Maharashtra or for that matter in most of India except the state of Goa. In most states no political constituency would have more that 1 percent voters who belong to this community and since one sees that voting even in a so called progressive state like Maharashtra too happens only along caste lines a Saraswat person stands no chance of wining even a municipal elections. One look at the list of candidates announced by various parties on the eve of elections and one would be convinced of how each and every seat is contested on the caste appeal only. One often sees a debate in media where participants plead that educated youngsters should participate in politics and 'clean up' the system. One does not want to sound pessimistic but how does one make a start with a ' wrong last name'.!
The Cultivation starts right at the primary level. College elections, where tomorrow's politicians are supposed to be groomed are today dominated by students wings of political parties and what do you get to see there ? Sons and Daughters of local or regional political leaders thrusting themselves as 'students leaders' and ensuring victories in each elections using muscle and money that comes as inheritance from parents. What chance does a person with no political background stand ? Some chance only if he belongs to the 'right caste' ! That's because with issues like OBC reservations and right wing party's demonstrations in college campuses, the political atmosphere is highly polarized and even with your westernised upbringing or your secular principals you tend to get drawn in and influenced by the caste debate. The cultivation continues !
Fast forward to the political scene in a Municipal / Assembly election....Who are the candidates you have on your ballot paper...Only the ones that fit in the caste equations of the big parties...If it's a constituency in Mumbai where you have large population of fisher folk, all political parties shall field candidates belonging to only 'Koli' caste , if it's a Brahmin ghetto in central Pune all parties shall bet on only 'Konkanstha Brahmins'...
Established Political leaders in Maharashtra who claim legacy of Mahatma Phule, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar and other great social reformers would make no bones proclaiming in a closed door party workers meeting that only candidates belonging to the 'right caste' shall be given party tickets in elections. And in a election rally they would make an appeal to the voters to keep 'communal forces' away from power! Even after a supreme court ruling on the OBC reservation issue some leaders would hold protest rallies and demand 'justice' for their caste because they know all their votes would come only from that 'mass base'!
Late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan faced a lot of criticism when he was active in politics for not commanding a 'mass base'....He always retaliated by claiming that mass base was nothing but the support of a large number of people that one got on the basis of one's caste!!.. Truly arguable but the statement was not completely false. It is sad that in 60th year of independence this nation's voters and it's politicians choose to stay entangled in the 'caste web' instead of breaking it.