Libertatem Magazine

Idea of Social Justice And Caste Identity In Politics

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In a Democratic setup such as India, federal political system is one of the important features which provide for the balance of power as there is a multi-party system which prevent the center from being a tyrant. Societal arrangement in a democracy is not a natural phenomenon rather it is a system created and operated by the human. After independence , the question of caste identity Political understanding was dominated by liberals- left parties who saw changes in the caste system changes though in reality caste transform into economic classes which represented by “mirror representation.” Even though, constitutional safeguards to lower castes/backward in the form of Affirmative action provided for reservation of seats in the parliamentary system of government. Notwithstanding empowerment, sweep away from the Brahmanical hierarchical order sometimes lead to backlash between upper caste and lower caste. In author opinion, these backlashes can be exterminated only when every caste/class represented at policy making forum i.e. parliament.

Relationship between caste and politics

India, home of world largest democracy, conducts successful elections at regular intervals however there are some socio-cultural practices which “vitiate” the fair election process. The relationship between caste and politics can be divided into three phases. Elite caste had been involved in the politics as far as first phase is concerned. For example, Pandits in Maharashtra and Tamilnadu there were fractions and fragmentations has been occurred amongst elite caste, resulting in the vacuum which lower caste is fulfilling during second phase. In the third and the last phase which is a “pro-Development” phase where caste involvement which was established in the 2nd phase is weakening. The third phase is more of a development model where the state is more focused on the issues such as urbanization and institutional development rather on focusing on caste issue. However castes are constant and therefore ensure institutional development. In view of this writer, caste in not a mere question of identity rather an issue of so called “pro- development” model and no one can do away with it.

History of Political structure in India

A multi – party system is the catalyst for growth and stability in democracy. In the absence of the former, democracy can’t flourish. Governmental changes occurred through electoral legalization is itself a sign of a smooth growth of democratic party system in India. India literally had the one party dominance till 1977. However regional political party (Non-Congress) has been dominated at times in states such as west Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. Changes and development of political structure in India can be bifurcated in three heads.

Political structure before 1966: from 1950 to 1966, India saw a peculiar one party system I.e. congress has dominated India “as congress won parliamentary majority overwhelmingly” in the name of Gandhi, Nehru and Shastri.

Political structure of 1967-71(coalition model): fourth general saw a major change and brought various power hungry fractions under one roof. 1967’s election was effectively a hurdle for congress because for the first time ruling party faced the danger of being reduced to a minority party.

Multi- party model after 1989 onwards: during this time regional parties emerges as the kingmaker at the center stage. A reason responsible for the same is programs and campaign by various parties namely janta dal in the form of anti -corruption campaign against congress. Sikh riots also affected the personality ‘cult’ of leaders. If we analysis the phases and structure of political system one thing which can easily be inferred is that regional parties had been coming into existence only after 1978 i.e. after the emergency. A leader like Kanshiram who founded Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), was one of the first faces who had attached “caste identity” on political party. A vacuum which had been created by congress after 1978 was occupied by regional parties in various states.

Electoral behavior and emergence of “individualistic approach”

India, the world largest democracy, conducts successful elections at regular intervals, however there are some socio-cultural practices which “vitiate” the fair election process. Electoral politics is flourishing nowadays and thus strengthening the democracy nevertheless, unlike the west; India’s electoral behavior is not “individualistic”, however changes can be seen as now more citizens deal with complex nature and make their own political decisions. Thus, shift can be seen in the electoral behavior i.e. from group -based decision to individualistic. Now as far as current political discourse is concern it has been shifted from representation by elites (upper caste) to communitarian self-respect identity.

Social justice and caste identity in politics

Justice can be summarized as the mutual advantage, a state of being impartial. On the other hand, social justice is a constitutional promise and historical entitlement which ensures fairness to the downtrodden section of society to overcome the initial disadvantage. However, Justice can’t be reduced to a definition as it is a very dynamic concept. In view of this writer, universality of natural justice cannot be achieved without ensuring social justice because justice as norms shared by all societies and because Natural justice is internal to political justice. Theoretically, justice can be bifurcated into two heads.

  1. The Principle of equal liberty– this theory emphasizes that everyone should be provided and given equal opportunity.
  2. The difference principle- this theory mainly focused on the social and economic inequalities, it presume that least advantaged people.

Lower caste has been restrained from the participation in the on the account of their being polluted. The political structure of India has been discussed earlier whereby we divide Indian politics into various phases. However one thing is very clear that caste identity in political arena emerged only after the period of emergency, though Scheduled castes benefitted less substantially. Nevertheless, the first attempt had been made by Nehru in first Loksabha (House of representative) where he appointed Dr. Ambedkar, the first law minister of independent India. But nothing concrete had been done thereafter; in the author’s opinion, it was a mere political tactic to ensure vote and legitimacy among lower castes. As far as constitutional legitimacy of caste politics is concerned, Article 330 of the constitution of India read with Section 3 of The Representation of the People Act, 1956, provided for the reserved constituency for candidates belonging to SC/ST (socially backward caste) and thus signify that group-based politics can uplift the downtrodden.

To conclude, today one can see that there is some kind of Dalit Renaissance prevalent in the politics because today Dalit votes are much higher than that of an upper caste. This signifies efficacy and their more active involvement in electoral politics. This is perhaps due to the fact that it was only at this time, sizeable chunk of Dalit electors were able to actually exercise their voting right for the first time, especially in north India especially in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab. Today lower caste is at par with the upper caste at all levels of the society. Thus, caste identity is somewhere diminishing and acquiring an ideological form. We can say that caste is long last phenomena and thus it can’t be removed altogether but in the author’s opinion, it has adopted a new economic centric character and has acquired new eco-political identity. Caste-identity has lost its old character and centrality. The eco-political activities in which members of a caste are now engaged are of a radically different type from the ones perpetuated by the caste system. In the process, new socio-economic formations, some of ‘ethnic-type’, have emerged at the macro-level of the society. They compete to control economic, political and cultural resources in the society. In short, caste has ceased to ‘reproduce’ itself, as it did in the past and the idea of just society i.e. society based on equality, fraternity, can be realized.

Featured Photo Courtesy: Christanitymatters

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