Caste As A Factor In Elections —UP Waiting For An MGR!

Caste as a factor in elections  —UP waiting for an MGR!

By Prof R.Vaidyanathan


When the polls are on, the experts analyze about caste factor and mostly bemoan that they play a role at all instead of what they perceive the “imaginary Capability of a man” which alone should play a role.  They simply forget that in a democracy it is important for electors to identify with leaders not in abstract terms but in concrete ways. Caste/language/region etc play such a role.

But it is also important that a person from a dominant caste need not win from a constituency due to many reasons. Every party might have candidates belonging to the dominant caste and so it cancels the special status. Or if he is perceived to be a threat from dominant caste and biased towards it then all other smaller castes could combine together silently to defeat him.


In the “first past the post” system it is not needed to get 51% of votes polled to win an election. If there are say 4 candidates then even a vote share of 21% is enough to win a poll –if say 80% has voted.

Do dominant caste always get to be elected is an important question. Let us take Tamil Nadu [TN] as an example. There are three major castes namely Thevar / Gounders/Vanniars in the south /west and northern part of Tamil Nadu. Each of them has several subsets [like Sakkiliyar/Maravar/Kallar among thevars etc]. Another group namely Nadars which is in business [retail/Wholesale trade/Restaurants/transport etc] is economically powerful but numerically small. Chief Minister Kamaraj in the sixties was from this community.

It is interesting to observe that no CM has come from the three dominant communities leave alone Dalits who also constitute a sizeable segment of the population.

The reason is simple. None of the three dominant communities is in a position to accept other community leaders for CM as of now.

Hence TN has seen CMs who were MGR from a non-existent community in TN [he is a keralite with Sri Lankan origin] and M.Karunanidhi who comes from a minuscule Vellala {nadhaswaram playing] community and Jayalalitha from miniscule Brahmin community.

All three with filmy backgrounds which make you less caste oriented due to its dream factory image.

The point is smaller caste persons are considered to be less menacing and more neutral to dominant communities. It is the same logic which made Ramakrishna Hegde to become CM of Karnataka even though he belonged to a very small Havyak Brahmin group of North Karnataka. The then dominant groups namely Lingayats and Vokkaligas settled for him. Similar is the position of Urs who also belonged to a small group. The recent Caste survey –leaked informally –suggests that Lingayaths and Gowdas are not as numerical as earlier believed. Each of them is less than 10% and this will alter Karnataka poll situation in future.

If you belong to a larger caste group like say Mulayam [yadav] in UP then you need to combine with Muslims—which for all practical purposes is another caste with large number of subcastes.

Similarly a Kurmi Nitish Kumar could succeed because of backing from Yadav and Muslims not on his own.

Hence a leader from a minuscule group has better acceptability compared to dominant groups in a multi caste contests. To break the dominant cast plus Muslims nexus in UP and Bihar one should search for acceptable leaders from miniscule groups who are considered “above others”

This is what Congress used to try in the past but unfortunately their strategy of Muslims/Dalits/Brahmins combination in UP and Kshtriya/Harijan/ Adivasis/Muslims [KHAM] in Gujarat has been decimated due to Muslims and Dalits moving away from them.

The new Dimension is the role of women or Nari Shakti since they are considered to be part of a Women community. Whether it is Didi or Amma or Vasundhara or Mayawathi they have significant women sympathizer who feel that these leaders have overcome so much male bias in politics.

In this context a political party like BJP might be better off considering someone like Smriti Irani belonging in a sense to Delhi and a miniscule community as a prospective CM

Candidate. Smriti Malhotra is a khatri by birth and her mother is a Bengali and husband is Irani—She cannot be identified with any caste groups in UP and that is the way to deal with identity politics of UP.

It is important to transcend caste and religion in a “political sense” and a candidate like her will be a good possibility. Any other leader belonging to a dominant caste is not going to be acceptable to others and it is not easy to get a coalition with Muslims for BJP.

Also needed to attack Mulayam style politics as one which enriched only his family similar to that of Karunanidhi in TN

It is important to deal with caste politics of UP and Bihar if the nature of democracy has to be nurtured in a positive direction.

UP is in desperate need for an MGR with all his mystique/transcended caste and sense of fairness. This is what Smriti should be projected as. She has derived from small screen what he has derived from big screen. Is there a political will in BJP to take the plunge?



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One comment

  1. nparamasivam1951 · · Reply

    If UP also handed over to Ram Madhav, the Combination of Ram-Amit-Kalyan ably supported by HVS Dr.Swamy, will do wonders.

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