Of the caste, by the caste, for the caste
The proposal to have reservations for SC/STs in promotion to Government jobs shows that ‘casteisation’ of Indian politics is complete
The Constitution (117th Amendment) Bill 2012 introduced in Rajya Sabha and approved in the Winter Session has intensified conflicts between political leaders on the issue of allowing caste-based promotions in public services. Ms Mayawati, as the leader of the Dalits, has publicly confronted Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose electoral vote base comprises members from Other Backward Classes. Because of material and economic conditions prevailing in agrarian India, the Dalits and the OBCs are organised on opposite sides in society.
Apart from Mr Yadav, other leaders of the OBC peasantry like Ajit Singh of the Rashtriya Lok Dal and Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal (United) have taken a clear stand against reservations for SC/STs in promotions in Government service. Public employees in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, who are opposed to this new concession for SC/STs, went on strike from December 13. The battle lines have been drawn and it is clear that there is nothing like a homogenous group of the oppressed. Different sub-castes are in perpetual struggle to get quota-based reservation for jobs. The Gujjars of Rajasthan have been on the war path for inclusion in the OBC quota, and the Government of Haryana has accepted the recommendation of the Backward Class Commission to include Jats, Jat Sikhs, Tyagis and Bishnois in the quota for Other Backward Classes.
Bihar Chief Minister Bihar Nitish Kumar has created a new category for the Extreme or Most Backward Castes, within the OBCs, for greater share within the quota of the OBCs. This race for inclusion in the group that benefits from reservations is encouraged by sub-caste leaders trying to establish their political credentials. Also, most political parties do not have a consistent policy on this issue. Their response is determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on how much political leverage they can achieve in the process. The best example of this was provided by former Prime Minister VP Singh, who decided to implement the Mandal Commission report on backward classes in August 1990, when he felt threatened by the supporters of Devi Lal within his own party. Singh, the Machiavelli of Uttar Pradesh, abruptly announced his acceptance of the Mandal Commission report to save his prime ministership. His decision was both applauded and condemned, as both supporters and opponents looked only to consolidate their interests in the present.
But one long-term consequence of Singh's decision was the rise of caste-based leaders like Mr Lalu Prasad, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan, Mr Sharad Yadav, Mr Nitish Kumar, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ms Mayawati (and even her mentor Kanshi Ram). These leaders reduced political discourse to a caste-versus-caste level and the distinction between politics and caste was blurred. Consequently, when such leaders rose to lead a Government or a ministry, they merely acted as a patron of their own castes, often at the cost of overall social welfare. So much so that even State-level bureaucrats began to be identified with their caste groups. Moreover, these leaders continued to practise their caste politics even after they joined coalition Governments at the Centre.
So what are the implications of such caste-based politics? First, the ‘casteisation' of Indian politics is now complete. It is no longer confined to the manipulation of caste or sub-caste loyalties to win a local election; instead, its impact is felt on the whole system of governance, including the public institutions. Second, the legalisation and institutionalisation of ‘casteisation' has only solidified inter and intra-caste hostilities. Third, Indian law makers have violated the basic principle of democratic citizenship by allowing caste-based markers to come into play.
Today, India has become a sum total of its many castes, represented in state institutions on the basis of fixed caste-based quotas. The political drama surrounding the issue of reservations in promotions on the basis of castes is only the tip of the iceberg.