In a blow to political parties exploiting caste for electoral gains, the Allahabad High Court on Thursday banned caste-based rallies in Uttar Pradesh with immediate effect. It also issued notices to four major parties in the state — the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party — as well as the central and state governments and the Election Commission (EC) to present their points of view on how to curb the menace of caste politics that threatens to rip apart the country’s social fabric. The next date of hearing is July 25.
The high court is right in saying that caste and community-based political mobilisation is divisive and a threat to public order. It has set a good example of how judicial activism can put a brake on dirty politics that has become the bane of Indian polity. However, the proclivity to arouse casteist and communal sentiments by pitting one group against the other is not confined to Uttar Pradesh alone, as anti-Dalit campaigns by the Pattali Makkal Katchi in Tamil Nadu have demonstrated. There, too, the state government and the judiciary have played a proactive role in putting the leash on troublemakers.
In a mature democracy, political parties must solicit public support on the basis of their policies and agenda and not on the basis of caste and community. Since they have failed to do so, there is need for a mechanism to stop caste-based politics throughout the country and the courts cannot always be expected to do the job. The EC has already banned such caste and community-based appeals during the election process. However, under the present law, it comes into play only when the model code of conduct is in force after the notification of an election and its power to act against defaulters is limited. It is time the EC is given more powers to regulate the conduct of political parties that endanger national unity and social harmony through their sectarian appeals.