In a startling development with far-reaching repercussions for Indian society and polity, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court on July 11, 2013, banned caste-based rallies in Uttar Pradesh and issued notices to the Central and State Governments, Election Commission, and four major political parties — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) – to present their views on July 25.
The ruling is deeply flawed and rests on an inadequate understanding of the Indian Constitution, and the nature of Hindu society as it evolved over centuries from the lived experience of the people. Caste – or more properly jati, gotra – is the organising principle of Hindu society, and cannot be disrespected with an ill-conceived legal ban on account of misplaced notions of political correctness. This cuts at the roots of Hindu society and is an impropriety in itself.
Prima facie, the ruling appears to obstruct the political mobilisation efforts of non-Congress parties that have built themselves up from grassroots level, with a particular jati or caste grouping as the kernel of their electoral base. At a time when the nation anticipates that the UPA coalition may call a snap General Election, the attempt to guillotine political activity in the critical State of Uttar Pradesh cannot but be viewed with suspicion.
Ostensibly, the Bench was responding to a public-spirited petition by local lawyer Motilal Yadav, who urged a ban on caste-based rallies on grounds that they transgress the spirit of the Constitution which states that all castes and communities are equal before law and there must be no discrimination on caste and religious lines. The petitioner alleged that caste-based rallies create enmity among castes and promote caste discrimination.
There is no merit in this claim as appealing to various segments of society on the basis of their core identity is not divisive. The petition and the ruling come close on the heels of the BSP’s recent conventions to woo Brahmins in 38 Lok Sabha constituencies of the State. Unless overturned, it will scuttle the plans of the BSP and other parties to hold similar rallies to galvanise support among various castes and religious groups.
In fact, the BSP rallies only prove that the party realises that despite its core scheduled caste vote-bank, it needs the support of other castes and communities to come to power in the State, or to garner maximum Lok Sabha seats in the General Election. That is why it has moved from the days of tilak, tarazu aur talwar, inko maro joote char’ to hathi nahi Ganesh hai, Brahma Vishnu Mahesh hai. Ironically, no one protested then, and the judiciary also refrained from taking suo moto notice of the aggression.
Anyway, caste-based rallies are clearly a form of political inclusion, a wooing and winning of the electorate on the basis of natal identity. In precisely this vein, political parties routinely reach out to women and youth. So far, nobody has called this gender-based discrimination or demographic profiling!
It is pertinent that the Indian state distributes patronage among citizens on the basis of their affiliation as Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Other Backward Classes, all of which have been upheld by the Supreme Court. The Indian Constitution recognises minorities and protects Muslim communal property (Wakf) and Muslim personal law over a uniform civil code. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh publicly stated that minorities have the first claim on national resources. Many special schemes have been implemented by the ruling UPA coalition for Muslims.
Neither the Supreme Court nor any other High Court has objected to any of this. In fact, the highly divisive Sachar Committee was allowed to badger institutions like the police and armed forces to provide information regarding the religious affiliations of their personnel, which they resisted to their credit.
Moreover, institutions such as the National Commission for Minorities (religion); National Commission for Women (gender); National Commission for Scheduled Castes; National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, all cater to specific segments of society. If caste or religious identity is intrinsically so divisive that it does not deserve to be recognised or mentioned in the public arena, then these institutions must first be abolished. All Constitutional privileges and State schemes for specific segments of society — be it reservations in jobs, seats in educational institutions, special financial assistance schemes, reserved seats in Parliament and the State Legislatures, minority institutions, et al – must be summarily done away with.
It bears stating that all talk of caste as divisive is a colonial mischief, assiduously perpetuated by the Marxist-Secularist brigade that grabbed the commanding heights of Indian academia after independence through patronage of the Nehruvian State. The truth is that by allegiance to their respective natal clans (gotra, jati), Hindus respect their ancestors and maintain the continuity of their culture and traditions. Above all, they preserve the sense of identity through which they unite with the larger civilisational identity of bharatvarsha.
It is hardly surprising that the Congress Uttar Pradesh unit president Rita Bahuguna Joshi was quick to applaud the High Court decision and claim that the ban on caste-based rallies would be good for the polity. She gave the game away by admitting that the regional parties are organising caste-based political rallies over the last few years… trying to unite the people on the basis of their castes and transforming them into their vote banks.
That is the crux of the matter. Since independence, the once dominant Congress party relied on the Muslim community, the Scheduled Castes, and Brahmins, to bring it to power and keep it in power for many decades. The agricultural castes across the nation were totally alienated from power, and they became the fulcrum around which regional parties initially established themselves in the States and challenged Congress hegemony. As the contest for power became livelier, Congress flirted with different caste alliances, such as Madhavsinh Solanki’s famous Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim (KHAM) which kept the party in power in Gujarat for many years.
Caste was never called divisive when the Congress made the most cynical use of caste arithmetic to come to power and to retain power. Justices Umanath Singh and Mahendra Dayal must explain how the institution of caste can be recognised by the Indian Constitution while caste-based political rallies are dubbed anti-Constitution. It is illogical, and going by the logic of basic structure of the Constitution as upheld in the Keshavanand Bharati case, this must be said to be ultra vires the Constitution.