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Caste is one of the major factors in politics of India. Independent India has seen intense debates over reverse discrimination, caste-based quotas and reservations.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, "Dalits and indigenous peoples (known as Scheduled Tribes or adivasis) continue to face discrimination, exclusion, and acts of communal violence. Laws and policies adopted by the Indian government provide a strong basis for protection, but are not being faithfully implemented by local authorities."[1]

Contents

Before 1980s

Mahatma Gandhi, B. R. Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru had radically different approaches to caste esp. over constitutional politics and the status of "untouchables"[2]. Till the mid-1970s, the politics of independent India was largely dominated by economic issues and questions of corruption. But since 1980s, caste has emerged as a major issue[2].

Mandal Commission

The Mandal Commission was established in 1979 by the Janata Party government under Prime Minister Morarji Desai with a mandate to "identify the socially or educationally backward"[3]. The Commission was set up to consider the question of seat reservations and quotas for people to redress caste discrimination, and used eleven social, economic, and educational indicators to determine "backwardness." In 1980, the commission's report affirmed the affirmative action practice under Indian law whereby members of lower castes (known as Other Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes and Tribes) were given exclusive access to a certain portion of government jobs and slots in public universities, and recommended changes to these quotas, increasing them by 27% to 49.5%. L R Naik, the only Dalit member in the Mandal Commission refused to sign the Mandal recommendations[4], as he feared that well-to-do OBCs would corner all the benefits of reservation.

A decade after the commission gave its report, V. P. Singh, the Prime Minister at the time, tried to implement its recommendations in 1989. The criticism was sharp and colleges across the country held massive protests against it. Many alleged that the politicians were trying to cash on caste-based reservations for purely pragmatic electoral purposes. Rajiv Goswami, student of Delhi University, threatened self-immolation in protest of the government's actions. His act further sparked a series of self-immolations by other college students and led to a formidable movement against job reservations for Backward Castes in India.

Votebank politics

Many political parties in India have openly indulged in caste-based votebank politics.

In 1990s, many parties Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal started claiming that they are representing the backward castes. Many such parties, relying primarily on Backward Classes' support, often in alliance with Dalits and Muslims, rose to power in Indian states[5]. At the same time, many Dalit leaders and intellectuals started realizing that the main Dalit oppressors were so-called Other Backward Classes[2], and formed their own parties, such as the Indian Justice Party. The Congress (I) in Maharashtra long relied on OBCs' backing for its political success[5]. Bharatiya Janata Party has also showcased its Dalit and OBC leaders to prove that it is not an upper-caste party. Bangaru Laxman, the former BJP president (2001-2002) was a former Dalit. Sanyasin Uma Bharati, former CM of Madhya Pradesh , who belongs to OBC caste, was a former BJP leader. In 2006 Arjun Singh cabinet minister for MHRD of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was accused of playing caste politics when he introduced reservations for OBCs in educational institutions all around.

In Tamil Nadu, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party rose to power under the canard of "Brahmin oppression", resulting in reverse discrimination against the upper caste Brahmins. Many Brahmins have alleged that Tamil Brahmins (Iyers, Iyengars, etc.) have left the state, due to a "hostile atmosphere" prevalent against upper castes in the region[6][7].HAI

Criticism

Back in 1950s, B. R. Ambedkar had criticized the use of caste as a political plank[8]. He anticipated the limitations of using caste as a political resource and instead, emphasized on eliminating the concept of caste from the society.

References

Further reading

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