Millennium Post

'Caste' your vote

With elections in less than three weeks, the dynamics in Gujarat is intensifying by the minute. The bastion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and one of the strongholds of BJP, Gujarat's alignment in politics had so forth been taken for granted. Almost synonymous with the lotus party, elections in Gujarat, this time around, will not be as obvious as it has been in the past. Gujarat has not only been dominated by right-wing politics since the last two decades, it has also been the pride of BJP. The Gujarat model of development had been showcased as the ideal that could be replicated across the country, if Narendra Modi was voted to power—this was the promise of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections where Modi-wave had swept through the country, comfortably handing him the coveted chair at the Centre. Since then, BJP has converted almost every election into a successful affair—it has grabbed the reins of majority of the states in the country and today has 19 in its kitty.

However, this Gujarat election is not as obvious as the previous ones. BJP, for one, faces a strong anti-incumbency wave which it must fight with all guns blazing. And going by the lotus party's track record of maneuvering through elections, this Gujarat session might not actually script a different story. Demonetisation and GST have angered Gujarat's traditional small businesses, who disregarded the idea that these moves would cause policy benefit beyond simply harassing the citizens. The traditional Hindu upper-class has played a less pivotal role, whereas the OBCs, Patels, and Patidars have proven to be the game changers carrying the potential sword of bringing about a marked difference to these elections.

The Congress has come out without leaving any stone unturned to assure that they can outdo BJP. If not outdo, at least pose reasonable threat to the party that is dominating across the country. The relevance of Gujarat can be witnessed in the continuous rallies that were conducted by the two parties, with their most significant leaders taking to the dais, time and again, patiently convincing the population that each of them would endeavour to alter Gujarat's socio-economic status. Aside from the battle of words between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, this Gujarat election has emphasised the critical role that caste continues to play in India.

A social construct that has been ruling Hindu lives and subsequently sabotaging them, caste continues to remain relevant even 70 years after Independence. The partnership of convenience between the Congress and the Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) is reflective of how prominently caste still features as a component that could make or break electoral victories. BJP in its list of candidates for the upcoming elections has fielded 41 OBCs and 34 Patidars across 135 seats. Women, who are rightfully half of the population, have managed to secure only nine candidates.

This disparity not only highlights the role of caste as an electoral weapon, it also highlights how the masculine voice predominates the feminine—especially in matters of national governance. Though we received our first women Prime Minister 40 years ago, we are still stuck in the rut of being a regressive populace that is not able to qualitatively improve the space for diverse voices. If the active adoption of castes in the electoral list sought to benefit the lower-castes, this idea wouldn't entirely go to waste. Yet, as has been played out in the past, little is ever done to ensure that the backward classes can renew their vigour with assistance from their respective governments. For this, not only are our successive governments at the Centre to blame, the leaders of these caste movements are equally at fault. Rather than uplifting their castes with social policies, the motive has always been to further cement their position in the lower rungs and thereafter earn credit for appearing to be a messiah. It is indeed a shameful situation today, when caste politics continues to remain relevant and political parties capitalise on these differences to earn gains for themselves.

Amidst this war of castes, the women, from across sections of society, continue to lose their relevance as a determinant of electoral victory. Undoubtedly then, little is done for the protection of women, whereas lakhs are spent to woo in the lower castes. Political parties have failed to bring about any positive change. Rather than aligning with political parties and looking for reservations, caste movements today should attempt to disengage entirely with the caste structure rather than endowing it more value. Whoever said caste in India doesn't exist, or that it isn't relevant, must take a closer inspection of elections and their emphasis on caste divisions. Today then, it is little about ideology or practice, it is simply a mechanical move of further degradation where one blindly 'castes' their vote.

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