Caste has been a predominant aspect of social and political life of India. Its position as one of the most ancient and deeply rooted features of the Indian social system has been a major factor in the functioning of the Indian political system. Caste has been, as J.P. Narayan once observed, “the most major political party in India”.
It has been a determinant of political participation, electoral process, voting behaviour and almost all other aspects of Indian politics. Despite several changes arising out of the emergence of a developing industrial society, caste continues to play a major role in Indian Politics.
Rajni Kothari in his well known book ‘Caste and Indian Politics’ has aptly observed that politics is a competitive enterprise, its purpose is the acquisition of power’ for the realisation of certain goals, and its process is one of identifying and manipulating existing and emerging allegiances in order to mobilise and consolidate positions.
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The important thing is organisation and articulation of support, and where politics is mass-based; the point is to articulate support through the organisations in which the masses are to be found.
It follows that where the caste structure provides one of the principal organisational clusters along which the bulk of the population is found to live, politics must strive to organise through such a structure. “Political parties and leaders use caste to secure their objectives in the process.
Caste determines the nature, organisation and working of political parties, and interest groups, legislatures and bureaucracies and in fact all political structures and their functions.”
The study of Indian social system and its influence on the Indian political system essentially involves a study of the role of caste in Indian politics. Caste voting, caste-based candidatures, caste-oriented decision-making (vote-bank oriented decision-making), caste riots, caste conflicts and the issue of Reservations versus Anti-Reservations are all factors of the Indian political system.