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Caste and Politics

The relationship between caste and politics in Indian society has been subject of intensive study for many years. Many sociologists including Andre Beteille, Rajni Kothari, and Anil Bhatt have highlighted various aspects. According to M.N Srinivas the role played by caste in politics is in close approximation to that of the pressure group.

The modernizing forces will however reduce the influence of caste over the politics. However Andre Beteille holds that while westernization is taking individual away from caste identity the role of caste in politics is taking the people towards the caste identity and thereby strengthening it.Rajni Kothari studied the nature of relationship between caste and politics.

He has also examined the type of changes that have taken place in the political system as a result of the involvement of caste organization. Caste has three important indigenous elements -secular which refers to relevance of caste in politics in terms of the relations within and between castes. Integrative which refers to castes being relevant to politics through differentiation and integration and ideological which is heightened by its value structure. The analysis of Dominant Caste and political process by Anil Bhatt reveals the crucial role played by castes in politics and awareness of the lower castes of their political gains. He found that the higher caste groups had lower political interest and low castes higher political interests. Political awareness was high among the higher castes and was low among the lower castes. Lower castes by organizing themselves in pursuit of collective interest were able to emerge successfully. The involvement of these castes organization in politics has changed their position in hierarchical pattern of Hindu society. Caste solidarity and political power helped them to achieve higher social, economic and political success. This was highlighted by the studies conducted by Rudolf and Rudolf. The same was highlighted by Andre Beteille's study of Tanjore district in Tamil Nadu.Caste has become one of the most formidable element of group formation within political parties in India. The patronage and pecuniary resources available to the political leaders enable them to create a coalition of factions on caste basis, whose leaders are bound to political elites in power in a complex network of personal obligational ties. Each of these leaders had a group of followers tied to him in accordance with the same set of caste principles. The personnel of these castes factions may vary but whatever may be their social composition they demand and to a higher degree receive from their members full support. Political parties mobilize caste support in various ways. According to Andre Beteille two kinds of changes seem to be taking place in relation between caste and politics - power shifts from one dominant caste to another and the focus of power shifts from one caste itself to another on caste basis. He maintains that loyalties of castes are exploited in voting. New alliances cutting across castes are also formed. Rudolph is of the opinion that caste association has given caste a new vitality and democracy has enabled caste to play an important political role in India. Caste federations are formed not of one caste but many. His further observation pointed out that caste enters the political process by making appeals to caste loyalties in a general way. Also by activating networks of inter-personal relation both during elections and at other times for mobilizing support along caste lines and by articulating caste interests in an organized manner.Beteille has also pointed that the political process has a dual effect on the caste system. To the extent that caste and sub-caste loyalties are consistently exploited, the traditional structure is strengthened and to the extent that it leads to new alliance cutting across caste, it loosens the traditional structure. Political parties utilize the support of caste for their functioning and seek their support in winning elections. Grass-root political arenas as well as political parties have always remained and continue to remain dominated by elites of castes which compete with each other to form caste coalitions of supporters strong enough to maximize control over local resources and enhance opportunities to become players in political system.