Caste and Politics.
The political system in pre-British India was characterized by clear boundaries and territories. Village with caste panchayats councils functioning effectively were perceived as self-sufficient. It thus prevented extension of caste ties with the British rule, territorial limits were no longer there. Civil and penal codes and new system of justice were introduced with the advent of democracy and decentralized politics in the form of three tiers. Panchayati Raj brought politics to the grass-root levels.
The locus of power has shifted from the ritually higher castes to numerically large, politically mobilized middle rung and backward castes. In most regions of India the middle and lower level castes now enjoy empirical strength e.g. Nairs and Izhavas in Kerala, Vaniyars in Tamil Nadu, Vokkaligas and Lingayats in Karnataka.
The role of caste associations play an important role of a political instrument. They link members of a caste within a region and influence the political process especially electoral politics, significantly. Thus, caste as a dynamic reality of Indian society has undergone adaptive changes. Though some features have undergone change, there are elements of continuity and caste system exists as a unique social institution of the Indian society.
Andre Beteille has referred to some changes in the caste system, for example, in structural distance, in style of life, in commensal relations and in endogamy etc. In the past structural distance among castes was maintained not only through the pursuit of different styles of life, but interdiction’s or prohibitions of various kinds on marriage, commonality and social interchange in general. Today, the structural distance between the castes has reduced. All these changes in the caste system, the result of geographical mobility, Western education, creation of new occupation to which recruitment is at least in principle based on factors other than caste, process of modernization and political factors.
With the establishment of the British rule and the rapid improvement in communications, castes found it possible to range over wide areas. The horizontal solidarity of caste gained at the expense of the vertical solidarity of the castes of a region. Castes living in different areas could meet and discuss their common problems and interests. The educated leaders started caste journals and held caste conferences. Funds were collected to organize the caste and to help the poorer members. Caste hostels, cooperative societies etc. became a common feature of urban social life. Thus, in the last hundred years there has been a great increase in caste solidarity and the concomitant decrease of a sense of inter dependence between different castes living in a region.
An effect of universal adult franchise is the strengthening of the caste. This is because one prefers to vote for his caste-man. Political conflicts can almost be seen as conflicts between caste groups/ alliances. Caste federations are formed which refers to a grouping together of members of distinct endogamous groups into a single organization for common objectives. Kshatriya Sabha of Gujarat is one of the most active caste federation. It served as a political community as well and promoted Rajput leaders.
Rudolph and Rudolph (1967) discussed three types of political mobilization, which shows different phases of political development in India:
Vertical Mobilization: Political support is sought by traditional notables e.g. Rajas, feudal lords, dominant castes. By the virtue of their traditional authority they elicit support from their dependents. This is vertical mobilization.
Horizontal Mobilization: Here the solidarity among classes and caste groups, such as promoted through caste federations, challenges the vertical solidarity and structure of traditional societies. The major difference in this form of mobilization is that the agent of political mobilization is the political party and not the local notable. They appeal to the voters directly. As long as internal differentiation has not developed within the caste, mobilization is possible.
Differential Mobilization: This takes place when caste undergoes change such as internal differentiation or fission, integration of several caste groups in caste federations and association’s etc. Caste associations can be defined as para communities that help their members to pursue social mobility. It attempts to improve the social, material and political condition of its members. It is patterned along the lines of a modern rational organization to carry out its objectives. An important function is that it provides schools and college facilities for the education of the children fits caste members. It also provides a unified strength to fight for political goals. Eradication of caste is a distant reality. It continues to exist as an integral part of Indian social structure.