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Caste Class and Politics

Caste Class and Politics

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Published by Sourit Bhattacharya

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Published by: Sourit Bhattacharya on Jul 22, 2010
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01/28/2013

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http://sar.sagepub.com
South Asia Research
DOI: 10.1177/0262728007027003052007; 27; 333
South Asia Research 
Ashok K. Pankaj
Engaging with Discourse on Caste, Class and Politics in India
http://sar.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/27/3/333
 
The online version of this article can be found at:
 
Published by:
http://www.sagepublications.com
 
can be found at:
South Asia Research 
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 by sourit bhattacharya on April 28, 2009http://sar.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
 
ENGAGING WITH DISCOURSE ONCASTE, CLASS AND POLITICS IN INDIA 
 Ashok K. Pankaj
I
NSTITUTE
 
FOR 
H
UMAN
D
EVELOPMENT
, N
EW 
D
ELHI
, I
NDIA  ABSTRACT
This article maps the changing profile of pre-Mandaland post-Mandal debates on caste, class and politics in India, show-ing that the centrality of caste as an agent of politics and its dom-inant role in public-political life has remained a reality throughout. What is contested now is the extent to which recognition of casteas an instrument of socio-political change (following the MandalCommission) and caste-centric socio-political movements of the1980s and 1990s (the Dalit and Backward Class movements) hasreinforced caste-centric public-political life by giving it a modernvalue and a secular purpose.The article argues that the contemporary elaborate discourseson caste, class, and politics in India should seek to develop new paradigms for the discussion of caste and should interrogate morevigorously the democratic and secular roles of caste in relation toclass and politics.
KEYWORDS
:
backward class movements 
,
caste, class, Dalits, Mandal Commission, modernisation, politics, secularism, tradition
Introduction
Even though the contemporary discourse on caste, class and politics in India has beenliberated from the straitjacket debate of modernisation vs. traditionalisation anddichotomous vs. dynamic relations, the centrality of caste as an agent of politics andits dominant role in Indian socio-political life have neither been removed nor firmly challenged. Rather, recognition of caste as an instrument of socio-political change by the Mandal Commission and caste-centric socio-political movements of the 1980sand 1990s, such as Dalit and Backward Class movements, have not only enlivenednew debates in India, but have reinforced a caste-centric public-political life, givingit a modern value and a secular purpose. While during the pre-Mandal phase of the 1960s and 1970s, the discourse oncaste, class and politics in India was dominated by theories of political modernisation,SOUTH ASIA RESEARCH
 www.sagepublications.comDOI: 10.1177/026272800702700305Vol. 27(3): 333–353Copyright © 2007SAGE PublicationsLos Angeles,London,New Delhi,Singapore
 by sourit bhattacharya on April 28, 2009http://sar.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
 
334South Asia ResearchVol. 27 (3): 333353since the 1980s it has been inspired by the new awakening of Dalits and BackwardClasses and their movements for social and political empowerment. Hence, thecontemporary discourse is deeply interested in investigating the changing landscapeof socio-political life as a result of the political assertion of Dalits and BackwardClasses and its overall impacts on Indian politics. Moreover, if the earlier discourse was conditioned by transition from a colonial political system to parliamentary democracy, political stability of the dominant party system based on consensus politicsand social coalition, the contemporary discourse has been contexualised by declineof the dominant party system, recurrent political instability triggered by the dismantl-ing of old models of caste coalition, assertion of Dalits and Backward Classes, Mandal-isation of politics, proliferation of caste-based political parties, frustration with castepolitics and violent caste wars. Whereas early discourses culminated in the developmentof functional perspectives on caste, class and politics, present ones are equally con-cerned with dysfunctional roles of caste in Indian politics. The salient features of thesetwo phases of debate can be presented in tabular form (see Table 1):
Table 1
Changing Discourse on Caste, Class and Politics in India 
(Pre-1980)(Post-1980)
1.Influenced by theories of politicalNo longer inspired by modernisationmodernisation theories2.Theoretically rooted in modernity vs.Empirically rooted in new socio-politicaltradition debate and dynamic vs. movements of Dalits and Backward Classesdichotomous relations3.Conditioned by political stability,Conditioned by volatile politics, increasingsmooth transition to democracy, successfulpolitical instability, violent caste warselectoral politics and cohesive social lifeand incessant caste tensions4.Focused on functional perspectivesEqually concerned withof caste in Indian politicsdysfunctional role of caste in Indian politics
The contemporary discourse on caste, class and politics in India appears unable tocontest vigorously enough the new rationalisations of caste. In particular, it has failedto challenge and derationalise its modern roles and secular values. The present study argues that the changed profile of this caste-politics discourse needs to be consideredafresh. This task can be achieved either through the quarantining of caste frompolitics—though how that is possible will need to be vigorously examined—or/andthrough the search for a new paradigm of politics. The former must necessarily follow the latter, as the first cannot be achieved without the second. The contemporary dis-course on caste, class and politics in India should thus urgently look for new paradigms.This article consists of three major sections. The first one briefly maps out thedebate on caste, class and politics in the pre-Mandal phase. The second one focuses in
 by sourit bhattacharya on April 28, 2009http://sar.sagepub.comDownloaded from 

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