Cast your vote, not vote for caste

Mandate: Let 2022 not be a throwback of 1990s brand of Mandal and Kamandal politics

Hari Hara Mishra | January 20, 2022


#economy   #politics   #democracy   #Elections   #society  
(File photo: Arun Kumar/GN)
(File photo: Arun Kumar/GN)

Once the schedule for the next assembly elections has been announced, there is a flurry of activity around building caste coalitions. This is more intense in the most populous state,  Uttar Pradesh, which is the most important state in India in any election, in view of its large population estimated at  23 crore in 2021, more than the population of Russia and Britain combined together.

Electoral politics in Uttar Pradesh has always been influenced by caste, and study of voting behaviour is focussed on changing equations and shift in dynamics among various caste and community combinations. However, to crores of people who are hooked to TV channels dishing out caste-wise votes polled,  a word of caution – Election Commission does not record castes of voters and there is no way caste wise voting can be empirically established. All these are based on samples collected by various agencies and interpreted by the analysts.

The caste-wise population in Uttar Pradesh, as per the 2011 census, is as follows:
OBC: 44%
Dalits (SC): 20.8%
Forward Castes: 14.2%
Muslims: 20%
Others: 1%

Out of the OBCs as above, Yadavs constitute 40% and form 15% of total population. In terms of religion, approximately 80% are Hindus and 20% are Muslims. With a triangular contest in the last elections, BJP, with 39.67% votes, won 312 out of 403 seats, i.e., 77.41% of seats thanks to the ‘first past the post’ system we have. BSP won 22.23% votes with 19 seats and SP in alliance with Congress won 28.07% votes with 54 seats. This election all the four major parties are contesting separately and one who can reach magical 40% of popular votes is likely to form the next government. The alignment and realignment of various caste groups and sub-groups within the broad caste category are in full swing. In parallel, there is also polarisation of votes on religious lines.

Caste has been a very important factor in one’s life in terms of hierarchical standing in society, opportunities available for advancement and progression towards better life. There have been several movements in pre-independent India too for upliftment of the sections at the bottom of the hierarchy. Eminent sociologist M.N. Srinivas studied the caste system in India and has done pioneering research on social stratification. The caste dynamics hover around aspirations to attain attributes of higher caste as represented by six factors, identified by him:

1.    Sizeable numerical presence
2.    Ownership of land
3.    Political power
4.    Access to western education
5.    Jobs in administration
6.    Place in local caste hierarchy

Until an egalitarian society emerges and there is an equilibrium, caste will continue to play an important role in expression of identity and movement for solidarity. Having said that, there are common issues across all castes and religions, like education, employment which tend to be equal opportunities provider for a better life. Health is also of equal concern for all. As brought out in this publication itself, your vote decides your future and vote for a party that can give you better opportunity in terms education, health, and employment:
https://www.governancenow.com/views/columns/vote-for-good-governance-vote-for-those-who-care-for-your-life-and-livelihood

Let there be more focus on aspirational issues of growth and development rather than on stratifications based on birth. One can fight caste injustice by demolishing the structural rigidities of caste by growth and development and not by reinforcing it with more consolidation around caste. Mandal and Kamandal (politics around caste and religion) dominated the elections of 1990s. In 2022, let us not look back. There are plenty of challenges for Uttar Pradesh to improve, as it ranks 35th in a Human Development Index (HDI) of 36 states and Union Territories of India in 2019 with a score of 0.596 marginally better than only Bihar at the bottom with a score of 0.574, and considerably lower than the Indian score of 0.647. Miles to go for Uttar Pradesh to become the Uttam Pradesh, and your vote can be the catalyst in the process of this transformation.

Mishra is a policy analyst and columnist.

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