Caste Vote

When the elections come, the candidates seek voters like the bees seek honey. This year's the Lok Sabha (the lower house of Parliament) election is no different. In this election, like previous ones, they sought voters for their precious votes and delivered their tactful talks, in temperamental tone, about what they would do, if elected.

Now, the canvassing is over and the voting is underway. Voters may vote the way they lately have been voting ' vote for their jati-bhai or 'bahen (cast-brother or 'sister) even though the caste-candidate may not be a suitable person. This pattern of voting suggests perhaps they just want their caste-man or -woman to win or they think their person will solve their problems, since no one else has.

All candidates appeal for their jati-member's vote. He or she tries to win the election by tacitly emphasizing the special bond that exists between the candidate and the jati-folks and the loyalty to the cast. The jati-folks, on the other hand, pride themselves in enthusiastically supporting and helping their caste-candidate win the election ' like the pride of Blacks in America in electing Obama to the White House.

What is not good about the caste-vote is when they demand IOUs (I Owe You) from their cast-candidate for their votes and make the elected cast-candidate payback. He or she must get the jati-persons things they want such as the government jobs, government contracts, government subsidy, college admission, relief from penalty for breaking laws, and special privileges.

This kind of vote-for-reward is not good for India and for democracy. If one believes in an old-fashioned principle that ethics is essential in election, as it is in daily living, then the challenge is how to turn the valueless votes into the valuable votes. Also, if one wants to curb the influence of both religion and caste in the election then one ought to improve the voter's status and leave the voter's caste alone.

Ours is a society based on caste and status. One identifies oneself in many ways: by the language one speaks, by the religion one follows, by the caste one belongs to, but will not identify himself or herself by Indian. And, of all the ways, one's caste has a special meaning. It cements the people of the same kind together and forms a cohesive group. All attempts to disintegrate it won't work and, in fact, there is no reason to break it down. After all, it is the Maker (or the Supreme or God) who decided the individual's caste. It is not his or her doing. Therefore, one should not be ashamed of one's caste, one's ancestors, one's culture, one's customs, and one's language.

Now, one's status is different from one's caste. The status has nothing to do with the caste but has to do with the education, work, money, material things, residence etc. A common voter ' usually not rich, not well educated, not a homeowner, and not owning many material things ' moves in the circle of other common voters. He or she aspires to be in the circle of rich voters, but perceives a big gulf that separates him or her from the rich peoples' status.

So, when a voter goes to a polling station he or she thinks the candidate of his or her caste will improve the economic status and votes for the caste-candidate. Furthermore, he or she thinks, if things do not get better, the elected cast-candidate and cast-elders could be ashamed.

This kind of caste based thinking and voting has gained momentum and is one avenue the poor are pursuing in order to improve their economic status, education status, financial status, residential status. One hopes selfless status improvers come to power in this election. 


More by :  Vasant G. Gandhi

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