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India: The caste factor

Monday 25 December 2017, by siawi3


The caste factor

1 day ago

The Assembly election results have brought navsarjan (rejuvenation) to the Congress party in Gujarat and beyond, the credit for it going mainly to its strategy of building electoral alliances with caste groups.


Among the few indisputable consequences of the just-concluded Assembly election in Gujarat is the forceful return of a peculiar form of identity politics. While religious identity, in the form of aggressive Hindutva, was the dominant tool for mobilising voters during the past two decades, this election campaign reintroduced an old form of identity politics first pushed by the Congress during the Assembly elections in 1980. The 2017 election results, declared on December 18, show that this form of identity politics still has wide acceptance in the State even if Hindutva continues to dominate.

“KHAM-style politics has been revived in this election.†This was the common refrain in a section of long-time Gujarat-based election watchers and researchers as they spoke to Frontline, even if they differed in detail, on the day the results came out. The acronym KHAM denotes an electoral alliance of the Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim communities, first framed by the Congress leader Madhavsinh Solanki before the 1980 Assembly election with great success. Explaining how KHAM reflects in the 2017 Assembly election results, Mahashweta Jani, a researcher with long experience of working on pre- and post-election surveys for the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), said: “The Congress has done well among Dalit, OBC [Other Backward Classes] and tribal voters.†She said that the increase in the Congress’ tally had come predominantly from rural seats, especially those where Dalits and tribal people are numerically strong. While 6.7 per cent of Gujarat’s population is identified as Dalit or Scheduled Caste (S.C.), 14.7 per cent is identified as tribal or Scheduled Tribe (S.T.).

Dr Bhanu Parmar, a professor based in Anand who has been a part of the surveys conducted by the CSDS, differed slightly. He also believed caste-based mobilisation played a critical role in the results, but he felt there was an alliance of different communities this time. Specifically, he had in mind the role of the Patidars who were not a part of the KHAM and, in fact, stood in opposition to it in the 1980s.