Sunday, August 17, 2008

Caste, the centrestage of Indian politics

Emergence of a new class of castes - Extremely Backward Caste proved that castes will always play a very significant role in our national politics.

Congress led the fight for independence representing diverse castes and communities but this "front" or social coalition came under severe strain in the 1960's.

Its just the equations that may have changed over the years and its time now for the extremely backward castes to take centrestage.

Around 60 years ago, when India turned independent the big fish came from the upper castes. In the next 20 years, the smaller fish the Other Backward Classes or OBCs fought for a larger slice of the pie.

Today, forty years later, the equations have shift again as the EBCs, the poorer OBCs are maneuvered upwards in the country.

The tide is turning slowly but surely with EBCs now getting separate quotas in Bihar, UP, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh

The latest addition is Rajasthan where the Gujjars, who have now wrested 5 per cent quota as EBC.

Nitish Kumar Chief Minister Bihar said, "The grammar of Bihar politics is set to change. Those who cannot see the writing on the wall are free to do so. Politics of alliances are over. There has to be development of the most backward castes."

The state government has introduced a 20 per cent reservation for EBCs.

By targeting the EBCs, an estimated 35 per cent of Bihar's population, Nitish is keen to wrest this floating political constituency from Lalu Yadav.

And in a move to isolate both Ram Vilas Paswan and Mayawati, Nitish has also recognised 18 castes of Maha Dalits or Extremely Backward SC's.

Year 1967 marked the ascent of the creamy layer to political power as Jats, Yadavs, Kurmis, Patidars, Koeris, Vanniyars, Vokkaligas backed the formation of 11 non-congress united front governments across north India.

Through the 1970s and 1980s OBC parties the Lok Dal, the Socialist Party, the Dalit Mazdoor Kisan party, the Janata party and the Janata Dal emerged.

In 1978 Charan Singh, a Jat became the first OBC prime minister.

In 1996 Mayawati rode to power as the country's first Dalit CM, backed by both Muslim and non-Muslim EBCs, who had been pushed to the margins by Mulayam Yadav's dominated Samajwadi Party.

In the last four decades caste and region based parties have replaced "national" parties giving rise to fears that "casteism" will dilute the spirit of the nation but the rise of EBC's has shown that caste will remain the key social and political vehicle to fulfill aspirations

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