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PSIR 1B-9 Caste, religion and Ethnicity in Indian Politics – Previous Year Questions – Solved

Model Answers to PYQs (2018-2023)

1] The rise of caste politics is to be attributed to both regional aspirations and electoral manifestations. Comment. [2023/20m/250w/8a]

As Beteille rightly remarks, in contemporary Indian society, outside the domain of the family, caste is most active at the level of politics. In pre-modern times, each attempt at caste identity assertion required the philippics of war and could not be carried out, as it is today, in a routine form within a democratic political format.

The rise of caste-based politics in India reflects the complex interplay of social identities, political representation, and democratic processes in the country. India has a long history of caste-based social hierarchies and discrimination. Caste identities have often been closely tied to specific regions or areas, leading to regional variations in the way caste-based inequalities are experienced. According to Weiner, the charisma of Congress leaders, combined with the success of the freedom movement, led to the downgrading of the moral basis of castes. According to Kaviraj, this resulted in a “democracy of castes in place of a ‘hierarchy’”.

In regions where certain caste groups have historically been marginalized and oppressed, there are aspirations for greater political representation and social justice. Regional parties often emerge as vehicles for these aspirations. The ‘bullock capitalists’ of Rudolph & Hoeber are small owners of land who exercise considerable political power in contemporary India as can be gauged from the successes of the Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, respectively.

The Indian Constitution includes provisions for reservations in educational institutions and government jobs for certain disadvantaged caste groups. The demand for these reservations and their implementation play a significant role in electoral politics. Parties engage in the practice of “social engineering” to craft electoral alliances that are designed to appeal to a range of caste and community interests.

The rise of caste-based politics in India is a complex interplay of regional aspirations and electoral manifestations. While it has contributed to increased representation of historically marginalized groups, it also presents challenges related to identity-based voting, political fragmentation, and social divisions. [324 words]

2] Ethnicity is the underlying cause which poses a great challenge in the resolution of the problems in the North-East region of India. Comment. [2022/20m/250w/8a]

From an outsider’s perspective, north east India seems to be a homogenous geographical entity, called the seven sisters. But an inside view can easily recognize the multiplicity of human collectiveness, each striving for recognition. For instance, the Assamese against the Bodos and the Mishings and the Karbis; the Karbis against the Dimasas; the Nagas against the Meities; the Khasis against the Garos and the list goes on.

In the extensive history of this region, the feelings of in-group out-group, perceived marginalisation, and ‘minority-consciousness’ have variously surfaced as key factors causing ethnic unrest. In northeast India, the fear of exclusion started even before Independence.

Ethnic tension in the Northeastern region in most cases is a byproduct of land alienation owing to demographic change as the people are fighting for natural resources in the same geographical space. Therefore, it is obvious that peace can be restored in the region through land restoration, poverty alleviation, education and development, especially in rural areas.

The problems of the indigenous people of the region have been continuously ignored by successive governments. Instead of exercising control over their land, these indigenous people have found themselves politically displaced. Further, there is a dearth of strong and dedicated leadership in the region because of which human resources of the region could not be utilized in an effective and productive way.

This marginalization makes the way for them to enter the shell of inviolable identities which can otherwise be fluid. An unemployed excluded youth will always turn his/her decision to ethnic mobilisation.

It isn’t possible to eradicate ethnic assertion from our society because every group tries to secure its identity which Taylor calls the ‘politics of recognition’. Increased involvement of the government in providing equal status and recognition to all ethnic groups, and the role of civil society in the spreading of nationalism are necessary.

Extreme regionalism and peaceful negotiations with insurgents and secessionist groups will positively help avoid ethnic conflict in the northeastern region, and contribute to its overall development. [331 words]

3] Explain how caste as a social category is also becoming a political category in the democratic politics of India. [2021/15m/200w/8c/]

Caste intersects with various socio-economic and political issues, such as land reforms, social justice, reservations, education, and economic development. Political parties and leaders recognize the importance of addressing caste-based interests and grievances to gain electoral support and maintain political legitimacy. Rajani Kothari called this phenomenon as ‘politicisation of caste’.

Caste-based identity politics is a prominent feature of Indian democracy. According to Rajani Kothari, caste operates as a powerful social force that influences voting patterns, party affiliations, and political mobilization. He argued that political parties and leaders often rely on caste-based strategies to secure support and consolidate power.

Voters often align themselves with political parties or candidates from their own caste or caste-based alliances. This phenomenon is known as “vote bank politics,” where political parties target specific caste groups and offer them political representation, benefits, and protection in exchange for their support at the polls.

Caste-based organizations and interest groups actively engage in mobilization efforts to assert their caste-based interests and demand political representation and rights. These organizations often lobby for policy changes, advocate for their communities, and influence political decision-making.

Caste-based social justice movements, such as the Dalit and Backward Caste movements, have played a crucial role in highlighting caste-based discrimination and demanding political rights, representation, and social equality. These movements have contributed to the politicization of caste and have influenced the political discourse and policy agenda. Jaffrelot has explored the role of caste-based parties, such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and regional parties like the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), in challenging dominant caste hierarchies and mobilizing marginalized communities.

Thus, from voter mobilization to making policies to raising their concerns, caste remains an important consideration. This indicates how caste as a social category is also turning into a political category. [296 words]

4] Examine the role of religion in Indian Electoral Politics in the contemporary times. [2020/15m/200w/8b]

Religion has historically played a crucial role in shaping Indian society and culture, and its influence on electoral politics continues in contemporary times.

Religious identity often plays a significant role in determining voting behaviour in India. Voters often align themselves with political parties that cater to their religious sentiments, beliefs, and aspirations. Religious affiliations, such as Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, or Christian, can heavily influence voting patterns and party choices.

Communal polarization, based on religious lines, has also been observed in Indian electoral politics. Some political parties and leaders have strategically used religious issues to create divisions and consolidate their support base. They may invoke religious symbols, rhetoric, or communal tensions to mobilize voters and gain electoral advantage.

Religious communities often seek political representation and advocacy for their interests and concerns. Political parties and leaders make efforts to appeal to specific religious communities and address their demands, such as the protection of religious rights, preservation of cultural heritage, or access to educational and welfare benefits.

The role of religion in electoral politics is not without controversy. The secularism debate in India revolves around the extent to which religion should influence political decision-making and state policies. Critics argue that the use of religion for electoral gains can undermine the principles of secularism, equality, and inclusive governance.

Religious identity, communal polarization, representation, and religious mobilization are factors that influence voting behaviour and political strategies. Balancing the role of religion with secularism, inclusivity, and the pursuit of development and good governance remains a challenge in the democratic fabric of India. [256 words]

5] Development has overshadowed the influence of caste in electoral behaviour in recent elections. Discuss. [2019/20m/250w/7a]

According to Christophe Jaffrelot, ‘While caste-based politics remains largely true, the 2014 and 2019 general election reflected the growing importance of some class elements within the caste, which is partly due to the socio-economic differentiation of caste groups’.

According to him, the promise of caste-based reservations has lost momentum. In the 1990s, in the wake of the pro-Mandal mobilisation, some parties could tell OBC voters, Vote for me and you’ll get quotas.’ But such claims are not sustainable any more as quotas have reached 60 percent, beyond its saturation point. A similar dynamic can only be started again if reservations in the private sector became a realistic prospect, but that is not the case today.

For decades, caste and class almost coincided and, as a result, from the 1990s onwards, upper castes monopolised middle-class positions. Changes have occurred in the context of the post-1991 liberalisation. This process has fostered a very high growth rate that has helped some poor people to become part of the neo-middle class.

This very amorphous social category is made of aspiring people who have initiated some upward mobility and sometimes some geographical mobility too, as they shifted from rural to urban or semi-urban localities to get a non-agricultural job. This group is more focused on development internally and also on the geopolitical location of India globally.

However, caste continues to play a significant role at the jati level, a more relevant unit of analysis than the large categories like upper castes,  OBCs and Scheduled Castes. But some socio-economic differentiation is also taking place within jatis, and this process, along with other subdivisions, affects the voting pattern at that level too.

So, while we can still explain the electoral behaviour of Indians on the basis of their caste background, new variables need to be factored in, including development politics. [303 words]

6] Critically examine the ethnic conflicts in North East India. [2018/15m/200w/6c]

North East India is culturally one of the most diverse regions of India. Unfortunately, this has also given rise to multiple ethnic conflicts in the region.

In Assam, there has been a lot of influx of Bengali population post 1971 war with Pakistan. This has led to fears of demographic change and reduced vote share of the local population, and also militant movements like ULFA at times.

There is also a demand for Bodoland by Bodo tribes in the north-west of the state and for Karbi Anglong state by Karbi tribe in Mikir hills.

In Mizoram, the Bru refugees have been displaced permanently into Tripura. The feeling of being driven away from their homeland has led to disaffection among the people, and just recently, after 20 years of their displacement, an agreement was signed with the Tripura govt. to settle them permanently.

The Naga tribes are not limited to Nagaland alone. There is a demand to carve out Naga areas from different states and form a greater Nagaland.

The demand for separate statehood or complete independence just after independence. Several smaller states have been formed after that. But these issues keep popping up from time to time. A permanent solution is needed.

North East of India is full of natural resources, there is huge potential for development. Rather than focusing exclusively on political issues, the Indian govt. also needs to work for the development of the region. Employment, economic prosperity, better standards of living etc. can resolve issues faster than mere use of hard power. [254 words]

The post contains answers to the last 6-year papers i.e. (2023-2018). Answers to the previous year questions from 2013-2017 are a part of our book PSIR Optional Model Answers to PYQs (2013-2022)

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