Amit Shah is an expert in making the best use of anthropology in politics.

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do", these words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (German writer) have absolute significance on every and any worldly issue which including Indian politics.
Amit Shah
Amit Shah


Our democracy has now taken firm roots but those roots are always in danger of getting exposed just as any 'plant' because of erosion, which may be caused by over usage of 'fertilisers', for our 'plant' of democracy it is due to the dominant use of 'fertiliser' called caste.

After the freedom struggle we got independence from the Britishers, and we got our Constitution which guaranteed equality but the first past the post system of giving victory on Parliamentary and legislature seats in our democracy got the caste arithmetic as an important ingredient for winning elections by political parties, and after the demise of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the most towering politician of his time in mid 60's, accelerated this usage of caste arithmetic in our democracy when by merely getting one-third popular support one can have thumping majority in our kind of multi-party democracy. This idea of equality as enshrined in our Constitution changes frequently in actual terms in the game of power politics, where a combination of caste under a political leadership come together and count one-third can gain power and almost two-thirds if not voting together for one party will be out of power.

Anthropologists more lately have documented that some caste groups have more appropriately used political, social, and economic power to move up the social ladder, while others moved down the social ladder. Caste in Indian Democracy has the importance of Anthropoligical studies, but it is not necessary that only trained Anthropoligists can find success in politics here but the one who uses those studies and optimises it's application can be the most powerful politician here. We have a long list of case studies of such politicians but the most interesting with a high success rate is of Gujarat, riding on the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) coalition propounded by Madhavsinh Solanki in the 1980s, the Congress rode to a spectacular electoral win in 1985, winning 149 of the 182 seats in the Gujarat assembly.

Madhavsinh Solanki’s remarkable election performance of 1985 has only been surpassed by BJP in 2022.

Although the KHAM axis alienated the powerful and influential Patidar community from the Congress and pushed it towards the BJP, the KHAM experiment created a vote bank for the Congress that remained intact for much after 1985.

The KHAM alliance worked wonders for the Congress in the 1980s under Madhavsinh’s leadership. He had to step down from the post of CM after he cleared reservations for other backward classes (OBCs) on the recommendations of the Justice Baxi Commission, which triggered widespread anti-quota protests in the state, particularly from the Patidar community.

Sensing an opportunity in the prevailing social scenario at that time, Solanki consolidated the Congress’ hold over Kshatriyas, Harijans (Dalits), Adivasis (Tribals) and Muslims through his hugely successful social engineering experiment, which came to be known as the KHAM theory.

Paradoxically, the KHAM formula which gave the Congress its best electoral win in the assembly polls, became a trigger for the rise of the BJP in Gujarat.

In the 1960s, Charan Singh constructed an alliance of peasant castes of Ahirs (Yadavs), Jats, Gujjars and Rajputs, abbreviated to AJGAR. It eventually also included Muslims, and was called MAJGAR.

These castes of the middle peasantry had benefitted from the Green Revolution. But they also had common concerns with agriculture and shared the same social milieu in their villages, which brought them together on election days.

Charan Singh emerged as their unquestioned leader, and his exit from the Congress also meant the party's inexorable decline started in UP politics post-1967.

On a similar line Mulayam Singh Yadav formulated his OBC and Muslim alliance post Mandal politics of VP Singh and got huge success and with Kanshiram engineering Dalit alliance with MBC's, UP politics revolved around these two for two decades. Similarly in Bihar, Laloo Yadav and Nitish Kumar formulated such alliances and dominated politics there. In Maharashtra Sharad Pawar managed such a caste alliance and became a dominant political force.

In South India, every state had such caste alliances cutting across the political spectrum.

Then came the era of BJP politics, where even riding on Hindutva they had to formulate such caste alliances, in UP in the early 90s Kalyan Singh a Lodh OBC became the face of BJP's caste alliance politics and even today when the debate is raging on caste census whose pitch has been raised by Nitish and Tejaswi in Bihar by having a state census and Rahul Gandhi coming with statistical data on OBC presence in governance and Akhilesh Yadav formulating a Pichda Dalit Alpsankhyak (PDA) alliance even BJP has to say loud that they have OBC as PM Modi.

Amit Shah has still proven to be having the optimum use of Anthropology in politics where caste alliances have been formulated and traditional dominant castes have been kept out with political benefits. But it has diminishing returns too, delivery of empowerment to caste groups who have come in an alliance has to be tangible and if it is not such then such caste partners shift easily in such alliances, Akhilesh Yadav is trying to encash on such possible shift through his PDA in UP whereas the murmur says that OBC castes are seriously calculating their tangible losses and gains by aligning with BJP, this has bolstered the pitch for caste census by Akhilesh Yadav in UP.

So in the 2024 outcome, will it be the success of Amit Shah's application of the Study of the Anthropology of Indian castes or it's diminishing returns?

Athar Husain,

Centre for Objective Research and Development(CORD)


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