India Elections 2014: The End of “Caste and Politics”
- 1. Introduction
- 2. The Ethnological Narrative
- 3. Caste or just Hierarchy?
- 4. Cronyism and Social Injustice
“Whereas psephological studies in the United States have demonstrated that the poor do not vote in significant numbers [...] the opposite is true in India”.1 Shashi Tharoor is a Minister of State, not a neutral columnist. However, by rhetorically arguing that Indian democratic process “is a sum greater than its parts” as regards to the shortcomings of its factionalism, he evokes a trivial truth that tends to reshape the widespread old narrative on caste and politics. That discourse, far from being a dismissed legacy from colonial anthropology, remains widely used by parties and politicians in their search for support in their electoral constituencies “from a wide combination of castes”, quoting from many of them. This wideness often escapes their calculations, which apparently involve even the new Aam Aadmi Party, despite its claims against this logic.2 in the last 15 years poll forecasts systematically failed to grasp the outcome.3 As professor Dipankar Gupta recently put it, “the great untruth that weighs on our minds, especially during the election season, is the correlation we make between caste and voting behavior”.4 Sociologists gradually turned down their interest in looking for some quantitative correspondence between caste and choices.
The narrative on “caste and politics” still persists among intellectual circles, with a great deal of analytical debate. It is largely set out of India, though locally echoed. Few years ago, the US ethno-historian Nicholas B. Dirks, while complaining about the “burden of the past” – namely, the colonial discourse on caste - insisted that “caste is the form of community that most effectively occupies the space of political society.”5 The socio-political substance of this presumed category is thus hard to die, though classic Kothari’s Caste in Indian Politics had long warned that “castes, where they are large, are not homogeneous and where they are small, not enough of a political force”.6 In other words, politics, as well as society, is basically a matter of “multiple memberships and overlapping identities”.
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