The caste background of MPs, MLAs and ministers is a key indicator of the capacity of India’s democracy to give access to positions of power to plebeian groups. Rise of the Plebeians? has shown that in the 1990s the MPs and MLAs of North India started to come from lower castes in larger numbers. This evolution was especially salient in the main states of the “Hindi Belt” (the Hindi-speaking region), Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
This trend towards inclusiveness was largely due to the fact that the lower castes recognized as “Other Backward Classes” were returned in larger numbers in the wake of their mobilization to reap the benefits of positive discrimination policies: in the last decade of the 20th century, political parties capitalized on their agitation in the street and converted it into electoral gains. The decline of the upper castes among elected representatives was also due to the emergence of a powerful Dalit party, the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, the largest Indian state. However, the data collected in the framework of SPINPER suggest an inverted U curve: since the 2009 general elections, the representation of caste groups in the North Indian seats of the Lok Sabha has seen a marked return of the upper castes.
To better understand this inverted U curve, SPINPER disaggregates the usual categories (such as Other Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes) at the sub-caste, jati level. Within the upper castes, the status and trajectories of the Brahmins (literati), Rajputs (warriors), Vaishya (businessmen) and others are scrutinized in order to identify the new hegemons. Similarly, within the dominant castes, which used to dominate politics in each state, the Jats (in Haryana), Marathas (in Maharashtra), Patels (in Gujarat), Reddys (Telangana), Kammas (Andhra Pradesh), Lingayats (Karnataka) etc. are also analysed in order to compare the resilience of this category in different states And the same distinctions will apply among the OBCs (where one finds Yadavs, Lodhis, Kurmis, Malis, etc.) and even among the Scheduled Castes or Dalits.
The case of the Dalits is especially interesting because they benefit from a positive discrimination program reserving an average of 15% of the seats for them in the elected assemblies on average. Some Dalit sub-castes (or jati) claim that the dominant Dalit jatis corner these quotas.