Caste, Charisma and Rahul Gandhi

rahulCaste is a trump card. People will reveal it at an appropriate time and place. Rahul Gandhi understands this and takes it seriously. His hurricane visits without adequate information to the local police invites the media spotlight and appreciation even from his political adversaries. From Shaturgun Sinha in BJP to Jayaprada in SP all are singing Rahul praises. But Mayawati is shaky over Rahul’s poaching into her Dalit base. If she is genuine about Dalit welfare, why should she be afraid? After spending all the time in building statues she don’t have time for dalits leave alone the state in total.

Although Rahul ideas are good for the long-term prospects of Congress party he needs to eliminate the chamchagiri, sycophancy and corruption in the party. Without doing this he cannot ensure the all round growth of Congress which is vital for the national growth. He must weed out the non performing elements who are totally anti-antithetical to the very foundational principle of the Grand Old Party. If he is aware of this mission in his efforts then he is leading the Congress to the greatest time in the history of India.

Wishing Rahul Gandhi all the success to take Congress and India to the top of the world where there is less corruption, sycophancy and chamchagiri.

The Times of India writes (10 October 2009)

It was bound to happen. The Nehru-Gandhi scion’s visits to poor households in poverty-stricken villages have come under fire from opponents for
being political stunts exploiting caste sentiments. Given the jaded grammar of politics in our country, it is not difficult to see why they would think so when the households that Rahul visited happened to be Dalit. But he has defended himself vigorously, stating that he does not believe in the caste system, and that he sees the issue from the perspective of economic deprivation. This is a necessary move, which has been supported by some of the UPA government’s initiatives. Caste needs to be de-emphasised in the country’s political discourse.

Granted, caste issues are a reality in rural areas. But, while the perception of caste does exist in urban areas as well, it’s economic issues which hold the key there. And a look at population projections reveals that the share of the urban population in India is expected to reach 40 per cent by 2021. By as early as 2011, urban areas could contribute around 65 per cent of GDP. This is why it becomes necessary to frame the question of poverty and social backwardness in economic rather than caste terms. Given the overlap between economic backwardness and caste in rural areas, focusing on the former will chip away at the foundations of discrimination based on the latter as well.

Whatever one might feel about the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme launched by the UPA government, one of its virtues is that it breaks free from the obsession with caste. But while the political strategy of the Congress’s main opponent in UP, Mayawati, is based on caste, Rahul’s efforts have been based within an economic framework. Identity politics may have run its course, and caste-based social engineering is likely to yield diminishing returns at the political box office. Perhaps the cynicism prevalent in our political system makes it difficult to believe a genuine attempt to break away from caste politics. But Rahul deserves the right to make new political experiments.
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COUNTER VIEW
Accept that caste can’t be ignored
Amrith Lal10 October 2009, 12:00am IST
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Rahul Gandhi’s attempt to explain his visits to Dalit homes in UP in class terms is least surprising. Most of our political parties claim that
their politics override caste and similar identities but formulate tactics, especially during elections, by working out the caste arithmetic. This duplicity is, perhaps, a leftover of the dominant political paradigm of the Nehruvian era that refused to recognise that caste was the primary marker of social identity in Indian society.

In some cases, the preference for this paradigm is due to ideological reasons, as in the case of communist parties. They argue that caste can be explained in class terms. But many others refuse to admit the presence of caste as the most important category in determining political power because such an admission would inevitably force them to confront existing social hierarchies. It is impossible to admit the influence of caste and argue for a status quo in power relations. One way to preserve social privileges determined by caste is to argue that economic factors alone are responsible for an unjust social order. However, it’s no more possible for political parties to argue this line. Since the Mandal revolution, caste has emerged as the main instrument for political mobilisation.

The Congress was the biggest loser as ground rules of politics, particularly in northern India, changed in 1990s. It is now in the process of rebuilding the social coalition that helped the party dominate Indian politics for decades. This coalition, in the party’s heyday, included many upper castes as well as Dalits and tribals. But to attract them back to the Congress, the party has to look beyond old forms of patronage politics where the leader gave some sops and got back loyalty to the party in return. Rahul Gandhi’s trips to meet and dine with Dalits are clearly part of a concerted effort to regain the trust of erstwhile loyal and now estranged social groups. It is more than a coincidence that most of the poor he is meeting are also Dalits. There’s nothing wrong with all this. The point is to admit that caste is at the centre of all such political strategies. And, that’s only being honest about the Indian reality.
TIMES VIEW: Welcome shift from identity politics

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