Class and caste in indian politics

Class and caste in indian politics

Caste in Indian society refers to a social group where membership is largely decided by birth. Each such local group avoids entering into marital relationship with outsiders. Originally, this group was associated with a specific profession. The mutual relationship of one caste with the other is established on the principle of lineage and the resultant purity of blood, making the relationship between one and another caste distant. The definition of caste is, however, incomplete, usually a caste is fragmented into several sub castes whose members are more unified, and each group maintains its identity and establishes relationships with similar groups spread over a large geographical area. This definition leads us to castes that despite being residents of different geographical divisions develop an affinity based on caste. Caste, through a united effort of its members to assert themselves, has today intruded in both politics and administration mainly through franchise and institutions like Panchayati Raj. Whether it is the factionalism of Indian political parties or the nomination of candidates and the mode of election campaign – most thins can be explained through caste interests and caste balance.

Theoretically speaking caste and democratic political system stand for opposite value systems. Caste is hierarchical. Status of an individual in caste-oriented social system is determined by birth. It has religious sanction by various holy texts, reinforced by priests and rituals. Traditionally, upper castes enjoy certain privileges not only in religious sphere but also in economic, education and political spheres. Customary laws differentiate individual by birth and sex. ‘That is, certain rules are harshly to women and Shudras and soft to males and Brahmins. On the other hand, democratic political system advocates freedom to an individual and equality of status. It stands for rule of Law. No one irrespective of status is above law. Indian democratic system under the Constitution stands for liberty, equality and fraternity among all citizens. It strives to build egalitarian social order. There are three consequences of such interaction between caste associations and political parties. One, caste members particularly poor and marginalized who were hitherto remained untouched by the political processes got politicized and began to participate in electoral politics with an expectation that their interests would be served. Second, caste members get split among various political parties weakening hold o f the caste. Third, numerically large castes get representation in decision-making bodies and strength o f the traditionally dominant castes get weaken. This explains the rise o f middle and backward caste representations in most of the state assemblies.

After Independence some caste associations were formed with political objectives to compete in elections. In Gujarat some of the leaders of the Kshatriya Sabha contemplated in the early fifties to form the party of the Kshatriyas. They soon reahsed that they could not muster enough support to contest elections only on the strength of the Kshatriyas. Similarly, political elite of the Kurmis. Yadavas and Koeris fortified the Bihar State Backward caste Associati011 in 1947 to contest elections. During the 1950s, B. R. Ambedkar criticized the use of caste as a political plank. He anticipated the limitations of using caste as a political resource and instead emphasized eliminating the concept of caste from Indian society. The Mandal Commission was established in 1979 by the Janata Party government under Prime Minister Morarji Desai with a mandate to “identify the socially or educationally backward”. The Commission was set up to consider the question of seat reservations and quotas for people to redress caste discrimination, and used eleven social, economic, and educational indicators to determine “backwardness.” In 1980, the commission’s report affirmed the affirmative action practice under Indian law whereby members of lower castes (known as Other Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes and Tribes) were given exclusive access to a certain portion of government jobs and slots in public universities, and recommended changes to these quotas, increasing them by 27% to 49.5%. L R Naik, the only Dalit member in the Mandal Commission refused to sign the Mandal recommendations, as he feared that well-to-do OBCs would corner all the benefits of reservation. In 1990s, many parties Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal started claiming that they are representing the backward castes. Many such parties, relying primarily on Backward Classes’ support, often in alliance with Dalits and Muslims, rose to power in Indian states. At the same time, many Dalit leaders and intellectuals started realizing that the main Dalit oppressors were so-called Other Backward Classes, and formed their own parties, such as the Indian Justice Party. The Congress (I) in Maharashtra long relied on OBCs’ backing for its political success. Bharatiya Janata Party has also showcased its Dalit and OBC leaders to prove that it is not an upper-caste party. Bangaru Laxman, the former BJP president (2001–2002) was a former Dalit. Sanyasin Uma Bharati, former CM of Madhya Pradesh , who belongs to OBC caste, was a former BJP leader. In 2006 Arjun Singh cabinet minister for MHRD of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was accused of playing caste politics when he introduced reservations for OBCs in educational institutions all around. In Tamil Nadu, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party rose to power under the canard of “Brahmin oppression”. Many upper-caste Brahmins have complained of reverse discrimination, alleging that Tamil Brahmins (Iyers, Iyengars, etc.) have left the state, due to a “hostile atmosphere” prevalent against upper castes in the region.

As a separatist notion, however, caste is a challenge to secularism but if caste creates separation it also brings the people together as a group. Democracy, undoubtedly, increases the activities of the caste groups. As a political power of the ruling elite gradually passes on to the people in a mass society the impact of castes is felt much more. Sometimes one caste dominates over the other, due to social conditions. Caste, politically speaking, has played such a basic role in the decision making process that even the reorganization of states in India had to grapple with it so that no caste group dominates a particular territory. Although untouchability has been prohibited under the Constitution. Harijans and Adivasis have also been given legal protection as a positive measure.  Thus an attempt has been made to create economic and social equality but these reservations have affected Indian politics in an unwholesome manner. Groups declared backward are now not prepared to forego the concessions that accrue to them by the label of backwardness. Caste has thus become a major obstacle in the establishment of a casteless society and has cemented communal connections. Even the politicians are caught in the web. On the one hand, they would like the differences and preferences based on caste to be abolished and on the other, are well aware that these are helpful in securing the vote. They, therefore, bless the caste organizations and also try to determine their limitations and contain their influence. This paradoxical situation can, therefore, be overcome only if the caste entity and the impact it makes on politics is fully recognized.  Caste becomes important in politics because politics is highly competitive.

Its purpose is to gain power for certain ends. It, therefore, exploits all kinds of loyalties in the society to gain and consolidate certain political positions; organization and articulation of support are important in the above process of politics in our country.  Caste is one such organization with which the people are associated.  The linkage between politics and caste is thus important and in the process both interact so closely that they are transformed. Party programmers also cut across caste loyalties and members of one caste may be divided on the basis of ideological affiliations.

Role of caste in elections has two dimensions. One is of the parties and candidates and the second is of the voters. The former seeks support of the voters projecting themselves as champions of particular social and economic interests, the latter while exercising their vote in favor of one party or candidate whether people vote on caste consideration. As mentioned above different parties accommodate certain castes in distributing party tickets. While nominating candidates parties take into consideration caste of the aspirant candidate and numerical strength of different castes in a constituency. Caste leaders also mobilized their followers on caste lines so that they could slow their strength. In the fifties wherever caste associations were able to maintain their unity and did not formally align with ally one party they appealed to their members to vote for their caste fellows irrespective of their party affiliation.  For a very insignificant number of respondents candidate’s caste was the main consideration. Some of the respondents might have voted for persons who happened to belong to their caste. But it was not caste voting. They voted for the candidate not because he/she was of their caste irrespective of his party and ability. They, voted for him/her because he/she was the candidate of the party to which the respondent felt closer for variety of reasons including the feeling that the party would “protect his/her” interests or the party had done good work for the people like him/her. Or, they were in touch with the candidate who might have helped them or they feel that he would help them when they need. Their primary consideration is their perception of their interests. In a given alternative parties candidates they consider as to who would serve their interests better than others. If the candidate happens to be of their own caste and his/her party is the party, which they identify as theirs, they vote for him/her.

Definitely caste is playing a very important role in the politics of India. Each and every political party is trying to use caste to fetch more and more vote out of the ignorant and illiterate majority of Indian voters. The regional parties are using caste as a means to serve their political ends. But the most important trend which we can mark about caste politics is that – All the political parties are now interested not only in a single caste or group of caste rather they are trying to please all the dominant and major caste in any particular area. The most recent instance can be seen in the social engineering done by Ms. Mayawati (Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh), who have tried to bring even Brahmins and Kshatriyas under the same umbrella under which the Dalit Samaj was sitting with a sense of security. Like this, the BJP, even being a party of Upper castes, is now trying to please the lower castes. Political connection is a reflection of the social reality and politics is one instrument which a particular class or group exploits to strengthen itself. It is, however, certain that the caste institutions are influenced in a dynamic and developing society, by urbanization, industrialization and modernization. No political party can function with a style of caste group and thus it has to look beyond the caste structure and appeal to all castes through its program. This is bound to weaken the caste structure. Politics does not function in vacuum. It operates in society in which it is influenced by social forces.

Politics influences social forces and change them. If political institutions and political leaders make conscious effort in intervening in social forces they call influence and bring changes in social order and relationship to a considerable extent. Democratic politics in lndia has been influenced by caste but it also changed the traditional caste system and its values. While participating in electoral processes at different levels structure and functions of caste has changed. Its traditional aspect of purity and impurity has been considerably weakened. Caste has provided institutional. Mechanism to the poor and traditionally deprived groups for political participation. Caste has been politicized to pursue economic and social rather than ritual choice of the members. In that sense it is a democratic incarnation of caste. But this process has reached an impasse and caught into vicious circle. Political leaders use caste consciousness for mobilization but do not pursue vigorously, economic and social problems that the majority members of the caste face. Caste framework has its own limitations. It is divisive and hierarchical. This is a challenge before the caste-oriented politics.

Politics of regionalism

Regionalism in Indian Politics is fast spreading across various states of India. It has become a striking feature of the Indian political party system. The rise of regional political parties have played significant role in the regional, state and even national politics of our democratic country.

After the first general election of 1952, the Election Commission had declared 19 political parties as regional parties. In fact, the regional political parties have become a part and parcel of Indian political system.

A regional political party usually confines its activities within the boundary of a state or region. It often represents the interest of a particular regional group, language group, ethnic group or cultural group. While forming their policies these regional political parties have often shown ideological integrity. They are generally not interested in taking parts in national politics. Rather sometimes they show militant attitude towards the national politics or to the Central Government. While showing this militant attitude they often get themselves engaged in unscrupulous political activities. Yet while they themselves come into power in their respective regions or states. They perform political activities with tremendous responsibility.

It is also striking that, now-a-days, both in their political activities and range of their success, many a national political parties have taken the character of the regional parties. They also share their regional parties especially in the affairs and problems having all Indian importance. Even the Indian National Congress Party itself has more or less, taken the character of regional political party in some states.

 

 

There are various reasons for its emergence of Regionalism in Indian Politics such as:

  • The administrative policies and decisions as well as the developmental plans taken at the national level may not satisfy all people of the country and these people, who remain dissatisfied, may feel that their interest are not properly safeguarded. In such a context they form the regional parties to solve their own problems. That was how the regional parties like D.M.K, A.D.M.K., the National Conference of Jammu and Kashmir etc. were formed.
  • India is still not free from ethnic, racial and religious orthodoxy. Sometimes the Regionalism in Indian Politics emerge on these ethnic, racial or religious grounds. That was how the Hindu Mahasabha, Ram Rajya Parishad, Siromani Akali Dal, the Muslim League or even the Telugu Desham party was formed.
  • sometimes the Regionalism in Indian Politics are formed on language issues as well. The D.M.K, A.D.M.K. parties of Tamil Nadu, the Telangana Praja Samithi of Andhra Pradesh or the Gorkha League of West Bengal etc. was formed on the basis of this language issue. These parties focuses on the interest of people who speak common language.
  • sometimes the regional political parties are formed on the initiative of one or a few political leaders. However, these types of regional parties usually do not last long. Since, most of such political parties are dependent on one leader, they generally extinguish when the leader himself dies.
  • sometimes the Regionalism in politics helps to safeguard the minority interests. The Muslim League, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the TYC etc. belong to this category of the regional political parties.
  • sometimes the internal conflicts of the big national parties may pave the ground for the rise of the regional political parties. That was how the Congress party was divided into several small parties like Congress for democracy, Congress (J) etc.
  • sometimes a leader of a big national party, if ousted from his other original party, forms a regional party to express his or her grievances. That was how Sri Ajoy Mukherjee formed the Bangla Congress or Smt. Mamata Banerjee formed the Trinamul Congress in Bengal.
  • the regional political parties formulate their policies and programmes on the basis of the regional demands, grievances and interests of the people. Naturally they pin with them the confidence and loyalty of the people. The National parties to try to utilize this confidence and loyalty of the people for their own sinister interest. Thus they form Coalitions and Fronts and the Leftist and right political parties appear as strange bed fellows. This has made the regional parties gain a lot of importance and confidence.
  • During the pre-independence days people fought for the country’s freedom and a unique sense of oneness, a sense of nationalism had flared up in them which had strengthened the solidarity and integrity of the nation. But after independence that burning sense of nationalism has evaporated and a narrow sense to regional interest has developed. This has also paved the grounds for the emergence of regional political parties.
  • The general decadence of values, too much centralization of power, dictatorial role of the leaders, negligence to the regional leadership etc. in the national parties have not only weakened their status but also facilitated the rise of numbers of regional political parties both big and small, in India.

 

linguism in india

At the time of achievement of Independence from the British rule in 1947, there were many princely states. Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, the then home minister, played a stellar role in amalgamating these states into the union of India. The Constitution of India was adopted on 20th November 1949 and came into effect on 26th January 1950, which defined the Union of India, comprising of different states, and union territories. In 1950, the states were reorganized on linguistic basis.

As a result, the domiciles of a particular state speak a particular language. Therefore India has become a land of many tongues and has been called “as a tower of veritable languages” or a “Museum of languages” or a “linguistic madhouse”. According to the 1961 census of India there were 1018 different languages. The 1971 census reveals that 1952 languages and dialects are spoken by the people of India. The Constitution of India has approved of 18 languages such as Assamese, Bengali, Guajarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Manipuri, Nepali and Konkani.

It has been rightly pointed out by A.R. Desai that India presents a spectacle of museum of tongues. India has also been called a tower of Babel.” This multilingual nature of the country affects every aspect of her national life. At present the language problem has become so acute that it has posed a major threat to national integration. Most often linguistic tensions are being manifested in the borders which are bilingual. The Goans are divided on the basis of Marathi and Konkani languages. In Belgaum there is a tug of war between Marathi and Kannad speaking people.

Assam is confronted with Bengali and Assamese. Bihar and Utter Pradesh are not free from the linguistic problems too. There conflict tends to persist among the Urdu, Hindi and Oriya linguistic groups and Urdu and Hindi speaking people respectively. It has also been demanded to include English in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. Of course English is a great language, but the problem is that, no nation can grow great with the help of a foreign language, simply because a foreign language fails to represent the indigenous culture.

India is not the only country faced with the problem of diversity of languages and multiplicity of scripts. Erstwhile U.S.S.R. and Switzerland, for instance, do also possess a number of languages. But “Unlike India in almost all the republic of the Soviet Union, Cyrillic script solved the problem of script.”

In the past, India did not have the problem of languages, because Sanskrit and Prakrit served as link language. In the later period, the role was being played by Persian and English language. They all were found suitable as link languages at least for the intelligentsia of the country. At present, although Hindi has been recognized as the national language, this has promoted bitter hostilities, particularly in the South.

Even the Constituent Assembly accepted Hindi as the official language after bitter and prolonged controversy.” Even though Nehru supported Hindi as a link language, nevertheless, he thought it to be unwise to impose Hindi on non-Hindi speaking people. “Language is the most delicate part of the body of community. It should not ordinarily be disturbed in the process of national development or social regeneration.”

 

Communalism

Indian society is pluralistic from religious point of view. Here, we have the followers of all the great religious systems. Hindus constitute the bulk of the population and they inhabit in all parts of the country. Muslims constitute the largest religious minority. But the adjustment between the Hindus and Muslims has been a failure several times, resulting in violent communal riots.

In the communal riots during the period of independence millions of people were rendered homeless while millions of others lost their property. Communalism was responsible for the division of the country into India and Pakistan. The partition was expected to resolve the riddle, but it failed. There is, yet, to develop the neighborhood living pattern between Hindus and Muslims.

Communalism, as we understand it in our country is blind loyalty to one’s own religious group. It is described as a tool to mobilize people for or against by raising an appeal on communal lines. Communalism is associated with religious fundamentalism and dogmatism.

Abdul Ahmed says, “Communalism is a social phenomenon characterized by the religion of two communities, often leading to acrimony, tension and even rioting between them”. Prabha Dixit writes, “Communalism is a political doctrine which makes use of religious and cultural differences to achieve political ends.

According to Asqhar Ali Engineer, Moin Shakir and Abdul Ahmed, “it is an instrument in the hands of to upper Cass to concentrate power by dividing people”. The elites strive to maintain a status quo against transformation by dividing people on communal and religious lines. Communalism may be perceived as a total commitment to a set of beliefs and it, s far from rationality.

Characteristics of Communalism

  • Communalism is an ideological concept,
  • It is a complex process,
  • It has a broader base which encompasses social, economic and political aspects for its manifestation.
  • It causes rivalry, violence and tension among masses,
  • It is used by the higher class people and elites as an instrument for division and exploitation of the communal identities of the poorer sections of their co-religionists.
  • Communalism is simply engineered by opportunistic political and economic interest of contending groups and factions within a political party or by political parties.

Causes of Communalism

There are a number of causes which are responsible for the prevalence of communalism. Some of two important causes of communalism are discussed below:

Tendency of the Minorities 

The Muslims fail to be intermingled in the national mainstream. Most of them do not participate in the secular nationalistic politics and insist on maintaining tor separate identity the elite among the Muslims have failed to generate the appropriate national ethos.

Orthodoxy and Obscurantism

The orthodox members of minorities feel that they have a distinct entity with their own cultural pattern, personal laws and thought. There are strong elements of conservatism and fundamentalism among the Muslims. Such feeling has prevented them from accepting the concept of secularism and religious tolerance.

 

 

Design of the Leaders

Communalism has flourished in India because the communalist leaders of both Hindu and Muslim communities desire to flourish it in the interest of their communities. The demand for separate electorate and the organization of Muslim league were the practical manifestations of this line of thought. The British rule which produced the divide and rule policy, separate electorate on the basis of religion strengthened the basis of communalism in India Ultimately the partition of the country into India and Pakistan provided further an antagonistic feeling towards each other.

Weak Economic Status

A majority of Muslims in India has failed to adopt the scientific and technological education. Due to their educational backwardness, they have not been represented sufficiently in the public service, industry and trade etc. This causes the feeling of relative deprivation and such feelings contain the seeds of communalism.

Geographical Causes

The territorial settlement of different religious groups especially Hindus Muslims and Christians causes in them wide variation in the mode of life, social standards and belief system. Most of these patterns are contradictory and this may cause communal tension.

Historical Causes

The Muslims, all over the subcontinent, are converts from Hinduism, which was facilitated due to the caste-hate relations and under the compulsions of Muslim rulers. The problems of social segregation, illiteracy and poverty that had set apart the low caste people remain unresolved for them, as the foreign elite that rubbed never shared power with them. Their work ended with the conversion of the Indians and the converts began by imitating the masters in thought, speech and dress. It caused their alienation. Gradually, elements of communalism entered in the Muslim community. The separatist elements in the Muslim community, from the very start of the national resurgence had discouraged others of their community, from associating themselves with it. As a result Muslim league was formed which demanded partition of the country.

Problems of secularisation policy and national integration

India is a nation having great diversities. The people who inhabit this nation belong to different races, communities and castes. They reside in different geographical regions and speak different languages. They believe in and practice different religions and have varied life styles. But with all these diversities, they all are Indians and they feel like that. They may have many religious identities such as Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, or Zoroastrians. They may also be identified as Punjabis, Tamils, Malayalis, Bengalis, Manipuri, and so on, or South or North or North-East Indians. But their national identity is supreme.

National integration is essential for any nation with socio-cultural, religious, linguistic and geographical diversities. And for a country like ours, it is still more necessary. As we know, India is a very large country. We have the second largest population in the world. A unique feature of our country is that all the major religions of the world are practiced here such as Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism. Can you identify religions from the symbols shown in the illustration below? There are more than one thousand languages that people of India speak. There are also great varieties in costume, food habits, and social customs. Geographically, our land is diverse and there are amazing differences in climate. Despite all these differences India is one political entity. We have to co-exist with each other peacefully, respect the culture and religion of our fellow Indians. This is possible only when national integration is realised in true sense of the term. National integration is necessary also for the security and development of the nation.

It was during the national freedom movement that the feelings and sentiments of nationhood emerged and the need for national integration was realized. During that movement people belonging to different regions, religions, cultures, communities, castes and creeds joined hands to drive out the British power from the soil of India. Especially under the banner of the Indian National Congress, established in 1885 people from all the sections came together and compelled the British rulers to quit India. Since the British rulers had adopted the policy of ‘divide and rule’, the freedom movement was focused on forging unity in the people of the country. The leadership of the movement laid emphasis on equality, liberty, secularism, socio-economic development. When India became independent all these formed the main objectives of the new nation.

National Integration and the Indian Constitution

when India got independence on 15 August 1947, the country was faced with many problems. The national integration faced great challenges. You must be aware that the partition of the country created two nations, India and Pakistan. The partition caused the worst kind of communal violence. A large number of people who were living in an area for generations had to move to the other area as refugees. You may have watched such scenes in some films and documentaries and serials on the television. Besides, the Indian political leaders were faced with complex issues related to integration of Princely States. There were other factors also that had the potential to generate problems for the unity of the country.

Communalism as Challenges to National Integration

Communalism has been one of the most complex problems that India has been facing. This is generated when individuals belonging to one religion develop excessive affinity to their religion and hatred towards other religions. This kind of feeling promotes religious fundamentalism and fanaticism and proves to be dangerous for the unity and integrity of the country. It is more so for a country like India where people practise all the major religions of the world. But India has been suffering from communalism since independence. As we know, we faced worst kind of communal riots on the eve of independence, and even after. There have been many communal riots in various parts of the country, inflicting immense sufferings on the people.

Communalism has been one of the most disturbing problems. It has continued to be a threat to national integration. It is true that traditionally, the Indian society has been non-communal. Since centuries it has been absorbing and assimilating many religions and cultures. But it was during the British rule that communalism was used as a tool to divide Indians. The colonial rulers created situations to convince Indians that primarily they were members of different religious communities and they must think and act differently. The Constitution makers had sensed the negative potential of communalism. That is why, the Constitution declares India to be a secular State. Although the original Constitution had many provisions to promote secularism, the continued reappearance of communalism demanded reassertion. Consequentially, it was made one of the basic pillars of Indian democracy and the word ‘secular’ was inserted into the Preamble of the Constitution by the Forty-Second Amendment in 1976.

various provisions of the Constitution ensure India to be a secular State. The Indian constitution through its Preamble and particularly through its chapters on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles has created a secular state based on the principle of equality and non-discrimination. Along with the principles of social and economic democracy, secularism has been held to be one of the ‘Basic Structures’ of Indian Constitution. It has been reflected in the Constitution primarily as a value in the sense that it extends support to our plural society. Secularism aims at promoting cohesion among different communities living in India.

Despite the constitutional provisions and safeguards it is unfortunate that all Indians are yet to be truly secular. We have to experience communal riots at regular intervals. Even a very insignificant reason leads to communal tension and violence. But secularism is essential not simply for maintaining communal harmony and peace, but for the very existence of our nation. If you look around yourself, you may find that your friends, classmates, neighbours or nearby residents believe and practice religions that are different from your religion. They belong to various castes. How can you interact with them and be a good friend, classmate or neighbour, if you do not respect their religion and they do not do the same. We all know that India has a plural society. It is therefore essential that all the people develop respect towards one another and practice peaceful co-existence.

Political participation & voting

Voting is the most prominent form of political participation, and in fact, for many people, it is the primary means of participating in politics. A unique and special political act, voting allows for more people’s views to be represented than any other activity. Every citizen gets one vote that counts equally. Expanded voter registration means that more and more people have been able to participate, and voter turnout trends indicate how many people exercise their right to vote as a primary means of political participation.

In order to participate in voting, citizens must be registered. To register, citizens must meet eligibility requirements and have filed the necessary paperwork that permits them to vote in a given locality. Eligibility requirements require voters to be eighteen years of age, and states can enforce residency requirements that mandate the number of years a person must live in a place before being eligible to vote. The composition of the electorate has changed radically throughout American history. The pool of eligible voters has expanded from primarily white, male property owners at the founding, to include black men after the Civil War, women after 1920, and eighteen- to twenty-year-olds after 1971.

Voter registration laws were implemented in the 1860s by states and big cities to ensure that only citizens who met legal requirements could vote. Over time, residency requirements were relaxed. Beginning in the 1980s, some states, including Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, made it possible for people to register on Election Day. Turnout in states that have Election Day registration averages ten points higher than in the rest of the country. The United States is one of the few democracies that requires citizens to register themselves rather than having the government take responsibility for automatically registering them.

Factors Influencing Political Participation

Psychological or cognitive traits

Social psychologists have emphasized on psychological traits which stem from individual personality and cognitive structures. They include sense of efficacy, sense of civic responsibility, sociability, sense of alienation and authoritari­anism.  It is assumed that there is a relation between the cognitive status of low self-esteem and feeling of pessimism and alienation from society and political apathy. But this political apathy influences political participation it is not much clear and certain.

Social environment

The social environment definitely has an impact on political participation. Social environment includes elements like education, occupation, income, age sex, race, caste, ethnicity, mobility and habitation. The more educated are better able to transmit their political interest and knowledge to their children and to the people of their neighbourhood.

Political environment

To what extent an individual receives political stimuli to participate in political activities, depends on the political environment or the political setting in which he/she finds himself/herself. The right to participate is a defining feature of democratic political systems but is not fully exercised. Levels of political interest and apathy have often been taken as criteria of participation and non-participation, including party membership, expressed interest in politics and awareness of issues.

Level of modernization and urbanization

It has been argued that there is a positive correlation between these two processes and the political participation. Both the processes help in increasing the extent of political communication which leads to greater political awareness.

Urbanization as the first stage of the modernization process tends to raise literacy; increased literacy tends to increase the media exposure; and increasing media exposure facilitates wider political participation. Economic modernization affects political participation through socio-economic status.

Political socialization

Socialization is the mechanism by which people become aware about the issues and ideology and come to identify with a particular political party. It affects both the quality and amount of participation. The politically aware are usually better able to relate their social values to their political opinions, to achieve stable, internally consistent belief systems.

Voting

Voting is the most frequent citizen activity, especially in modern democracies. The scope and the outcome of voting is very broad affecting all the members of a society. Voting determines the leadership issues and policies of the party as well as the whole nation. The major criterion remains voting in elections which is consistently somewhat higher than the other measures.

Campaign activities

Participation in election campaign or other campaigns is another mode of political participation. Through this leaders can increase their influence over the citizens and the voter turnout. Campaign activity also produces collective outcomes.

Vote-Bank Politics in India

The political parties constantly engage themselves in creating vote-banks on the basis of caste and religion. This is reflected in the manner in which candidates are chosen to contest elections from various constituencies, and in the way political leaders try to win the favors of the majority group. But the vote arithmetic does not work that way.

It may be true that in any given constituency a particular caste or a group of castes belonging to the same status category may exhibit numerical preponderance. But when different parties nominate their candi­dates from the same numerically preponderant group, the consequences go counter to their strategy.

These candidates divide the vote of their caste or caste cluster, and each of them is forced to gather support from other castes. In such a situation, the winner will naturally be from the same dominant group, but may come from any of the contending parties. Attributing victory to a vote-bank in such circumstances is not a valid conclusion.

One should distinguish between intention to create a vote-bank on the basis of caste or religion and the Consequences of such an effort. Intention is a part of the strategy of the political party; conse­quences depend on the behaviour of the voter.

A political strategist may intend to create a vote-bank, but the voter need not oblige the party strategist. Such a distinction is generally not made in common parlance. However, it should be recognized that some personality-led political parties try to create their political bases along caste and community lines.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is one such example in which support is sought from among the Dalit groups. But even this party is now trying to change its image by seeking support from other caste groups that are regarded superior in terms of ritual hierarchy.

 

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