TITLE OF DOCTORAL THESIS: “CASTE AND COMMUNITY IN UP, INDIA: A STUDY OF ELECTORAL POLITICS SINCE 1990”
DR. AFROZ ALAM
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF POLITICS
NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY, ORISSA
Our aim in this thesis is to understand electoral incentives for political parties in the electoralupsurge of Oppressed Castes and Muslims that takes place in Uttar Pradesh since1990s. The main objective behind selectingthe Oppressed Castes as our subject of study is to move comprehensive politicalinquiry in the direction of a deeper understanding of their contemporaryelectoral upsurge and the consequent rise of Bahujan Samaj Party, which is why we believe that itrepresents the most important political development in Uttar Pradesh since Independence. Moreover,the party has proved itself as the only embodiment of the active, authenticparticipation of Oppressed Castes in UP politics since 1990s.
We have selected the Muslims as another subject of our study mainly because of the rising salienceof the community in the highly competitive electoral conditions consequent uponthe rise of low caste politics in Uttar Pradesh since 1990s. With regard toMuslims, the central purpose of this thesis is to test the hypothesis that thehigh levels of multiparty competition along caste lines among the majorityHindu community increases the salience of Muslim votes and that bipolar partycompetition generally decreases the importance of Muslim votes.
This study brings to the fore this fact that contemporary electoral politics of Uttar Pradesh isdominantly shaped by caste and community considerations. At the same time,while going through the electoral history of Uttar Pradesh, we also find thatthere had never been a time when the politics of the state was not colouredwith caste and community factors. The root of political mobilisation of castecategories lies in the very division of Indian society on caste and communallines with inbuilt discriminations, colonial model of representativeinstitutions, introduction of adult suffrage and the socio-political geographyof the electoral constituencies. The decisive impact of “number” on theelectoral outcome under adult suffrage model forced the political parties inUttar Pradesh to consolidate, and mobilise the caste groups.
In general terms, the electoral politics of Uttar Pradesh, since Independence to late 1960s, can be understoodin two inter-connected features. First, the domination of upper caste elitesprovided the framework of political bonding in a fragmented society thatsustained the monopolistic design of the Congress for two decades in the state.Second, the systematic attempt of the upper caste elites to alienate andexclude the marginalised castes from the power structure of the state was madeeither by arresting the rising consciousness of marginalised caste groups or byco-opting their emerging elites.
The decade of 1970s and 1980s witnessed the process of defragmentation of lower castes into a politicalidentity with the consistent effort of socialist parties to mobilise them inorder to create an electoral base. The instrument behind the mobilisation oflow castes was the emergence of reservation politics dominantly supported bythe socialists. However, the assertion of the nascent political identity of thelow castes did not sustain for long. This was largely because of therefragmentation of the same into many political identities without concreteoutlet that was successfully encashed by the Congress.
However, the appointment of the Mandal Commission and its implementation with consequent violentreaction of the upper caste groups in early 1990s suggested that thedefragmentation and consolidation of the lower castes will further beaccelerated and may prove to be effective and decisive in turning the electoraloutcomes outside the domain of parties representing upper caste interest.
We may have reason to be less pessimistic that in the past, the upper caste collectively organisedthemselves in one political category under the banner of Congress party andsuccessfully dominated the power structure of Uttar Pradesh. While the declineand displacement of the Congress system in the decade of 1990s was marked bythe replacement of upper caste groups by the assertion of marginalised lowercaste groups under the banner of numerous socially fragmented parties. UttarPradesh politics epitomises this trend, apparent in the emergence of more orless homogeneous parties of the OBC strata and Dalits.
The argument of this thesis, however, suggests that the mobilisation of collective caste categoriesis now fragmenting on individualised caste assertion. This gives way to theprocesses of fragmentation, de-fragmentation and re-fragmentation. Thecollective political grouping of this broader caste groups fragmentedthemselves into individualised caste groups in order to reap the benefit ofcompetitive electoral competition of political parties during mid 1990s in UP.It in turn resulted in the unfolding of unexpected political patterns. Theelectoral incentives that lay behind the fragmentation of caste and communityproved to be decisive factors in increasing multiplication and fragmentation ofpolitical parties that resulted into the intensification of electoralcompetition in the state. Particularly significant is the decline of Congressparty with the desertion of the Brahmins, Kshatriya, Dalits and the Muslims.Equally important is the rise of Bhartiya Janata Party with the consolidationof Kshatriyas, Brahmins and Banias. Most importantly, the subaltern castessought to break free from their marginalised position and began to consider thepotential of wider horizontal political mobilisation with a broadercollectivity of similarly placed caste groups. We find the manifest example ofthe consolidation of Dalits, more particularly Chamars, along with the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Other BackwardCastes, particulary Yadavs, with theSamajwadi Party.
However, the individualised assertion started increasing its pace in the mid-1990s that gavebirth to the refragmentation process of the caste clusters. Kurmis and Lodhas no longer find themselves in the web of OBC politics ofMulayam Singh Yadav. These two castes have now established themselves into animportant political category. Jatshave already consolidated behind the Lok Dal of Ajit Singh. Pasis and Valmikis have started asserting their independent identity quiteoutside the domain of Dalit politics of Mayawati. Thus, the process offragmentation of political identities is making it difficult for the politicalparties to keep the conglomeration of caste categories remain intact andpermanent with their domain.
Another landmark in the changing style of UP politics was the electoral strategy of Hindutva politicsunder the championship of Bhartiya Janata Party. It was largely designed tocurb the sharp political mobilisation of OBCs and Dalits by tacticallyportraying the Muslims as alien enemy. However, the BJP’s strategy of usingreligious cleavages, as those between Hindus and Muslims to their advantage,was countered by the strategy of the political parties using the castecleavages exemplified in the conflict of upper, backward, and Dalits and theirconsequent consolidation by the BJP, SP and BSP.
Our findings about the relationship between political competition and caste and community mobilizationin Uttar Pradesh might seem to lend empirical support to the argument that thepolitical incarnation of caste and community in Uttar Pradesh is an inevitableby-product of electoral competition in highly fragmented societies. Our centralfinding is that a high level of electoral competition makes the low castegroups and minority communities especially Muslims strategically important.
A deep analysis of the electoral politics in UP since 1990s indicates that the electoral incentives ofsocially heterogeneous constituencies have led parties to switch from thestrategy of demobilizing and excluding other social categories to the strategyof building bridges between included and excluded categories. The heterogeneousnature of constituencies exerts a powerful moderating effect on conflictingissues in the following ways: first, no party is able to build a stablemajority on its own, and must reach out to groups outside its core voters and groupsthat it formerly excluded. Second, since the dimensions of mobilization keepchanging, no single group, no matter how defined, is permanently excluded fromthe political system. If we look at the party system in UP as a whole, everygroup has found a voice in the political system: Muslims, upper castes,backward and Scheduled Castes are all being courted by all four parties, namelythe Congress, the BJP, the BSP, and the SP.
However, the present study is confined specifically to understand the electoral behaviour of the Dalits (Oppressed Castes) andMuslims. In this respect, we can have our doubt on the independent exercise ofMuslim’s “free will” during the course of all elections, parliamentary orassembly, till 1980s. Our findings about the relationship between politicalcompetition and Muslim response in Uttar Pradesh support the argument that thepolitical environment of Uttar Pradesh did not provide fertile soil for theindependent assertion of Muslims at least till 1980s. Like other segments, Muslimstoo supported the Congress vehemently till 1960s. The reasons to support theCongress were many. But the most important was that the Congress was successfulin bargaining votes with the Muslims in exchange of its equivocal promise toprovide security to them in the state. It seems obvious to us that the Muslimfear-psychosis about their physical protection after independence and politicalnecessity pushed Muslims to vote for the Congress.
Nonetheless, the high levels of party competition combined with strong backward caste movements that regard Muslims as acceptableand valuable coalition partners were visibly absent in Uttar Pradesh till mid1960s. It was in this context, that Muslims were placed in an extremely badposition to decisively demand political preference, employment as well aseducational preference in lieu of their votes. As a result of this weakpresence of caste politics, there was no strong alternative to Congress forMuslims. Consequently, Congress was able to secure Muslim votes without puttingmuch energy into wooing Muslims. Muslims had no alternative in the state exceptto support the Congress despite being aware of the fact that the rulingCongress politicians had little incentive to woo Muslim voters at the expenseof the Hindu nationalist swing vote (the Jana Sangh) and their core upper-casteconstituencies. Thus, in the first two decades after Independence, the electoral behaviour ofMuslims was largely guided by one particular issue that of physical protectionor at least non-aggression from the state.
But as the inter-party competition increased with a focus on backward caste mobilization, Muslim vote became a matter of pivotalsalience in the state. Propelled by the need to survive politically against theCongress, non-Congress politicians found greater incentives to appeal to Muslimvoters who could provide them with the margin of victory. The strategy of thenon-Congress parties was to moderate their stance towards issues sensitive toMuslims and preserve the option of forming coalitions with them. Needless tosay, it was with this aim, the opposition parties in U.P approached the Muslimsthat finally shifted the balance in their favour temporarily in 1967 and 1977elections. However, Muslims did not vote in these elections differently. Theywere very much the part of anti-Congress upsurge prevailing during theseelections. Though the immediate reasons that forced Muslims to say good bye toCongress in1967 and 1977 elections was the maltreatment of Urdu, doubts aboutthe minority character of Aligarh Muslim University, increasing incidents ofanti-Muslim violence in Uttar Pradesh and the reluctance of ruling Congress inpreventing the riots because of the doubt whether doing so would help or hurtthem politically.
Only in the late 1980s, backward caste parties began to provide real competition in Uttar Pradesh that turned Muslims for the first time into a keyswing vote. Disgusted by the dual politics of Congress on Ayodhya-Babri mosquecontroversy Muslims permanently deserted the Congress in 1989 to support theparty emerging as alternative to Congress. Mulayam Singh, first as a leader ofJanata Dal and later as supremo of Samajwadi Party, therefore made successfulefforts to woo the Muslims from Congress. The Muslim votes were sufficient togive Mulayam Singh a stable majority in the UP Assembly. The parties likeJanata Dal and later Samajwadi Party had been able to win power in the stateonly by building coalitions that included Muslims.
With the deepening cross-cutting ethnic cleavages since 1990, the political parties showed a greater willingness to reach out to Muslim voters.It is true to that where intra-ethnic cleavages are strong, politicians fromthe ethnic majority will often prefer to seek the Muslim support rather than thesupport of segments of their own ethnic groups with which they are incompetition for scarce political power. As a result, the parties are competingfor Muslim support because of the number of votes Muslims can deliver and thelow cost to the majority parties of the demands of Muslim voters relative tothe demands made by other groups within the majority community.
More importantly, the Muslim voters in UP are now in a better position to profit from this increasing electoral competition. As the party politics thatfocuses on redistribution from forward to backward caste, the low caste partieswill have greater incentives to appeal to Muslim voters who can provide themwith the margin of victory. At the same time, the competitive party system hasled to a reduction in Hindu-Muslim violence, as politicians are forced byelectoral incentives to take firm actions to prevent Hindu-Muslim riots.
So far as the voting behaviour since 1990 is concerned, Muslims are being guided by the anti-BJP voting. In this process, they also deserted the Congressand started voting for the parties that represents the low caste interests. Thedesertion of Congress was consequence of many reasons. First, it was largelybecause of the Congress’ dubious stand on the Muslim issues. Second, the Muslimvoters have realized that the Congress had treated them as vote bank. Once theelection is over, their peculiar problems do not merit the Congress attention.Therefore, Muslims started looking for other options that culminated in their consolidationbehind the low caste parties.
The anti-BJP voting of Muslims was guided by the anti-Muslim mobilisation politics of the BJP. A landmark in this direction of completely alienating theMuslim voters from rallying behind the BJP was the demolition of Babri Masjid.The electoral motive behind this move was to polarize the voters on religiouslines in order to curb the influence of the Mandal politics which would riskalienating countless Hindu voters from the BJP. However, the strategy of BJP usingethnic wedge issues only helped the party in consolidating the upper castevoters with certain floating votes among the low caste identities.
It is significant to find that the Mandal versus Mandir phenomenon helped the anti-upper castepolitical parties not only to consolidate their own caste base but also Muslimelectorates. There were three reasons why Muslims find it more comfortable tobe with the low caste political parties. First, the alienation from theCongress left no alternative before Muslims except to align with the low castepolitical parties. Second, in the emerging context of electoral competitionbetween upper caste and lower caste, Muslims were treated as potential partnerby the low caste political parties to dislodge the upper caste from the powerstructure of the state. Third, the politics of Mandir against the Mandal of BJPmade the upper castes common enemies of both low caste parties and Muslims. Asa consequence, Muslims and lower castes entered into a long term electoralcoalition against the common enemy.
With regard to the Oppressed Castes, we find that the Oppressed Castes in Uttar Pradesh have comea long way since the early days of their political passivity. They are in abetter position to understand that how India’s widely acclaimed democracydoes function as undemocratic monopoly of upper castes. The answer lies intheir historical follies which they have committed to be caught in the“tactical logic of social unity” efficiently managed by the Congress system tomaintain upper caste’s domination over the power structure of UP. Understandingthis logical manipulation enabled them to better answer the question: why poweralways rotates around the upper castes despite the change of governance in thestate? This is out of the fact that they remained “vote bank” throughout thecourse of electoral history either for one party or another party. They hadnever asserted their numerical strength which is really a vehicle to attainpower under the management of universal adult franchise. Instead, theypoignantly conceded the systematic weakening of their organizational base andtheir potential claims in the power structure of UP through the means adoptedby the upper caste parties, namely, co-option, accommodation, and factionalism.They have also realized that there is no party in India that has natural intention toemancipate and empower them. Against this larger political canvas, theOppressed Castes have found the rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party inspirationaland liberating and recognized it as their own party. They have found a voiceagainst the upper castes and an ability to counter the forces that confinedthem to the periphery of society. The party’s first agenda is to convert thiscommunity into a strong electorate that wields its sheer size for politicalpurposes. In this pursuit, the BSP has largely succeeded in the goal to unifyand consolidate the Oppressed Castes. The party has proven to be inventive andinnovative in its approach to social and political mobilization. The activegrassroots mobilization by the BSP has yielded positive result. The OppressedCastes, who once lagged behind upper castes in terms of exercising theirfranchise, have now surpassed the upper castes in terms of turning out to casttheir vote. This certainly gives an impression of “the strong politicalaspiration on the part of Oppressed Castes and their effort to assert in ademocratic polity by utilizing the electoral process.” It simply proves thatthe Oppressed Castes actively transformed themselves into a category ofpolitical relevance that can no longer be resisted by any clever design of theupper caste‘s political parties. In this context, the credit goes to BSP andits effective use of administrative power that inculcated the idea of social,political, and economic empowerment of Oppressed Castes which could be possibleonly if there is active and effective participation of the community in thepolitical process of the country.
Testing the Electoral Incentives Explanation: Methodology
The present study is based upon the electoral incentives explanation of the political mobilisation ofOppressed Castes and Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. In this context, it must beconfessed at the very outset that in testing the electoral incentive model sofar as the mobilization of Oppressed Castes and the consolidation of Muslimsare concerned, we lack systematic data in support of such exploration. A fewpioneering collaborative projects have collected aggregate statistics on oursubject of study. But for our purpose these surveys and researches hardly areenough to provide support to our study. In this thesis we test our electoralincentive explanation argument for the rising political consciousness ofOppressed Castes and Muslims and the role of political parties using theElection Commission’s data, Census data, and various state-level opinion dataon Oppressed Castes and Muslim support for parties available since themid-1990s.
For information on politician’s electoral incentive motive, we rely upon the interviews conductedby numerous scholars and journalists with leaders and workers of the politicalparties in the state. We combine information gleaned from these interviews withan ethnographic study of election campaigns stretching from 1996 to 2004 and acontent analysis of party pronouncements as recorded in news paper sources. Wealso draw on a variety of documentary sources, including official literature ofpolitical parties and clippings obtained from the news papers and magazines. Toaddress the lack of good data on the subject of study, we rely on the welldeveloped body of secondary literature on Uttar Pradesh politics. Electoralpolitics in general and ethnic parties in particular, have been the subject ofsustained attention among scholars of Indian politics. The theoretical andempirical richness of this literature provides a particularly strong foundationon which to construct the electoral incentive explanation behind the politicalmobilisation of low castes and the consequent increasing salience of Muslim electoratesin the state.
In addition to this effort to gather material on the role of politicians and political parties infomenting the fragmentation of low caste categories and consolidating Muslims,the researcher also spent several years in many districts of Uttar Pradesh as aResearch Investigator of National Election Study Surveys programme organized byCentre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi and also latersupervised the CSDS’ State of the Nation surveys in Western Uttar Pradesh.Being a part of different CSDS survey programme, we extensively used the CSDSdata on the voting behaviour, preference and shifting loyalties of OppressedCastes and Muslims during the different Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections inUP.
Plan of the Study
We begin in Chapter 1 by examining the social, political, economic, religious and demographic structureof Uttar Pradesh. In this process, we explored the historical geography of thestate and the validity of it being called the heartland of India. Focus was also put on theland distribution, religious profile with issues, and caste structure with deepcaste cleavages persistent in the state. In Chapter 2, we evaluate theevolution of representative institutions and its impact on the electoralpolitics of the state. We also reflect upon the electoral politics of UttarPradesh with reference to caste and community in the light of politicalincentive explanation since independence to 1980s. We find that the electoralpolitics of UP since 1950s to 1980s, the upper caste groups were playing thedominant role in appropriating the incentives through marginalizing the lowcastes.
Chapter 3 tests the argument of the thesis, by examining the importance of electoral incentive inexplaining the political behaviour of Muslims since 1950s to 1980s. We showthat from 1950s to 1980s, lower levels of party competition in UP isstatistically associated with higher levels of Muslim’s political deprivation.We also provide qualitative evidence to show that politicians and politicalparties did act in the way in which our model suggest and that the level ofpolitical competition for Muslim voters was conditioned by the level offragmentation of political parties on caste lines.
The main objective of Chapter 4 is to make a comprehensive political inquiry in the direction of a deeper understanding of the contemporaryelectoral upsurge of the Oppressed Castes and the consequent rise of BahujanSamaj Party in Uttar Pradesh. We provide a general introduction to the BSP, theelectoral context in which it operates, alternative explanations for thepattern of variation in its performance. We also locate the party’s effort toattract the other caste groups and Muslims in order to attain the margin ofvictory in the state. We find that it is out of the compulsion of electoralincentive that BSP toned down its aggressive posture with regard to the upperand backward caste groups.
In Chapter 5 we explore the participation of Muslims in the electoral politics of UP in the 1990s and mid 2000s. The main objective of thischapter is to examine as to why Muslims should increasingly be the pivotalvoters in UP politics? Why has increased political competition not placed Hindunationalist voters, rather than Muslim voters, in the pivotal position in statepolitics? We also demonstrate that the electoral incentives we see are at workin the changing strategies of political parties with respect to expanding theirbase among Muslims and the perceptible change, if any, in the Muslim’s supportfor political parties.
The conclusion draws out the implications of this argument for electoral incentive behind themobilization of caste and community in the Uttar Pradesh politics. It shows,drawing on examples from post-Independence politics of the state particularlysince 1990s, that politicians can transform election results by reconstructingthe political identities with which voters may identify. We also find that withthe emergence of backward and Oppressed Caste mobilization in 1990s, the roleof Muslim voters has become strategically important and decisive in tilting thebalance of electoral outcome.