Sunday, May 13, 2007

Uttar Pradesh elections and the caste dragon

The social scientists in this country are a sad bunch. They do not have the courage to look beyond the obvious. This is amply reflected in the obsequious tributes being paid to caste power as wielded by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati's electoral success in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. The same people had sung the same parises for Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav in the 1990s. And they now argue that backward caste politics have come to an end.
The social scientists do not want to ask the basic question whether Mayawati's success means anything for the poor Dalits either in UP or in the rest of the country. Mayawati is indeed a smart and cunning politician, and she played the game very well. But that does not mean that she has somehow solved the prickly issue of social inequality implied in the caste hierarchy.
It is not much of a solace that instead of Brahmins paying the patron to Dalits and Muslims in the earlier informal caste alliance forged by the Congress, Mayawati has ensured that Dalits lead the Brahmins and the Muslims. But the caste mould of the politics remains, and it does not show any sign of fading away.
What we are being told by the social savants is that we must learn to accept the caste system as it is, and we should be happy if the oppressed castes are able to dominate over the upper castes. One of the intellectuals, he classes himself and he is classed by others as a Dalit intellectual, feels that the caste system will fade way when the Dalits will gain enough power. This is based on the flawed premise of empowerment.
The truth however is that empowerment only crystallises caste identities more than ever. It has been the case with the middle castes like Reddys and Kammas in Andhra Pradesh, Vokkaligas and Lingayats in Karnataka, the Marathas in Maharashtra, the Jats in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. And so it is with the Yadavs and Kurmis in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Caste just refuses to go away.
Instead of arguing the case for abolishing caste as once the zaminadaris have been, policymakers talk of empowering castes in order to tackle social and economic inequality.
Mayawati should be seen as an adroit politician , who has managed to use the caste card to bring the BSP to power. About a decade ago, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav had done the same for themselves when they exploited their Yadav base to come to power.

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