Thursday, May 17, 2007

Can we now expect all political parties to dump OBC quotas?

Remember all the clamor in April-May of last year? About how Mr. Arjun Singh (our much maligned Minister of Human Resource Development) was 'pandering' to the OBC voters? About how he was 'cynically exploiting' them with quotas in higher education? Never mind that OBC reservation had the support of all the political parties (why should the OBC votes go exclusively to Congress, Mr. Singh's party)? Never mind that the government of V.P. Singh, the original Mandal 'messiah', could not capitalize on his 'vote bank politics' (in fact, he never recovered from the debacle of the first post-Mandal elections in 1991). Never mind that there is something called the law of unintended consequences (voters tend to be not only wonderfully fickle, but also profoundly ungrateful).

The pundits said last year that Arjun Singh played vote bank politics, divided our harmonious society along caste lines, conspired to pit OBC brother against forward caste sister, and hoped not only for political benefit for his party, but also for himself. It was all cynical. No doubt at all. Utterly, horribly cynical!

Now they are saying, "Gotcha! It's all so, ..., last year!"

See, they seem to be saying, we now have new, improved Wisdom. Ms. Mayawati's victory in the recent Uttar Pradesh (UP) elections is due to the 'fact' that Dalits and Brahmins came together to vote those evil OBC politicians out. Why? The Brahmins were pissed off at the OBCs because of Mandal II, and the Dalits were against them because the OBCs were their 'new oppressors' in rural India. That this thesis has gained ground is clear from an increasing number of columns devoted to this line of thinking. Reality Check informs us that Chandra Bhan Prasad was prescient enough to see it even before the UP elections. Today, both Dipankar Gupta and Vinod Sharma echo this thesis in their respective columns.

Of these commentators, Dipankar Gupta, a sociologist at JNU, is quite blunt: he even titled his column "Calling the OBC bluff". But, wait a minute! Didn't the same man say (in a column in another newspaper) that "[the rural voter] considers other variables before approaching the ballot box." He further elaborated:

As the UP election has shown, jati loyalty is not the key. The emergence of a degree of caste correlation with electoral outcome is because economic, social and structural considerations bring otherwise hostile jatis together in caste blocks or clusters.

But that's not what he says -- just four days later -- in today's ToI column:

Rural social mobility and the marginal-isation of agriculture have together made earlier agrarian relations unworkable. The old landlords are gone and the new ones, in the shape of OBCs, can plunder SCs but cannot give them jobs in their farms as their holdings are generally quite small. But because these OBCs are politically connected and better educated they can still terrorise rural SCs in a hundred petty ways. This forced Dalits to look beyond their squalid mud huts and that is when Mayawati stepped in. Like Ambedkar, Mayawati too does not glorify the village because she knows rural reality up close. But she sought an enduring ally in the 'forwards' and brought them under her tutelage. These 'upper castes' were more than happy to play second fiddle and oblige Mayawati's Ambedkarism. They had little to do with rural Dalits, and had been emasculated anyway first by land reforms (whose memory is distant) and more recently by Mandal.

Et VoilĂ ! It took just four days for the voter to change his mind! Electoral destiny is written in caste ink! This is the new, new thing in Indian politics. In Black and White.

The message is clear. This spells death for Mandal II. It's time to roll back Mandal I, too! I don't know why the government is even interested in arguing -- in the Supreme Court, no less! -- for speedy implementation of is flawed policy of OBC reservation in higher education. Doesn't anyone in the UPA government see the futility of this foolish move? It's the anti-vote-bank politics, stupid!

* * *

Yogendra Yadav, whose outfit CSDS claims its exit poll was the best, gave the caste-wise break up of votes in their exit poll. He has an analysis of the difference between their exit poll predictions and the actual results (Part I, Part II).

As I recall, less than half the eligible electorate voted in the UP elections. The vote share of Ms. Mayawati's party is less than a third.


  1. Saurabh said...

    interesting... i hope the predictions here make it to the real world very soon!

  2. Anonymous said...

    Good One!!

  3. Anonymous said...

    // Never mind that there is something called the law of unintended consequences (voters tend to be not only wonderfully fickle, but also profoundly ungrateful). //


    There is someone else I know who sees voters as ungrateful from time to time.. and hurls choicest abuses at them when he loses.

  4. Anonymous said...

    The caste-wise break up shows that caste is only marginally important as a vote bank. So now we have the PM and others reassuring the poor forwards that they will also be taken care of- they could have said that before the election. Could have helped them to hold on to their integrity. Let us hope that this will be a lesson to politicians to go beyond caste based policies and treat the poor as poor and rich as rich.

  5. truti said...

    Much maligned Arjun Singh? rightly maligned more like it! This is the guy who threatens to derecognise entire universities (MS University) at the drop of a hat and has no clue how he fixes quotas (remember the Karan Thapar fisking?) Prof Abi, you need a reality check! If you have been reading The Pioneer (where Chandra Bhan Prasad has held court for a few years now) you wouldn't have had this nasty surprise. Anyway it is never too late - wake up and smell the coffee.

  6. barbarindian said...

    Perhaps I am missing something but how do the two quotes contradict one another?

    The first one says:
    (a) Caste is not the only factor, there may be economic factors.
    (b) Caste may not throw groups into alignment purely in the conventional sense, i.e. Dalits will side with OBCs just because they hate Brahmins more.

    The second one basically elaborates on how Dalits are realizing that OBCs are their main Shatrus.

    Can you explain which bloc of voters changed their minds between these two articles?

  7. Anonymous said...


    I suggest that your reading of the two D. Gupta articles is off. They are not mutually contradictory. Both stress the fact that *coalitions* matter, but the Rest vs. FC thinking that some engage in may be unraveling (and certainly did in UP). So he does not say that "caste does not matter". He simply says, instead, that it matters in a way that was different from how it worked in the past.