The role of caste in indian politics is undergoing considerable change. Caste and patron-client links have been regarded traditionally as the building blocks of political organization in India (Brass 1994; Manor 1997; Migdal 1988; Kothari 1988; Weiner 1967), and vertical and horizontal mobilizations by patrons and caste leaders, respectively, have been important influences on political outcomes (Rudolph and Rudolph 1967). There are indications, however, that the influence of patronage and caste might have declined considerably in recent years:

[National-level] survey data reveal some important facts that run counter to the conventional wisdom on voter behavior. … In 1996, 75 percent of the sample said they were not guided by anyone in their voting decision. … Of the 25 percent who sought advice, only 7 percent sought it from caste and community leaders … that is, less than 2 percent of the electorate got direct advice on how to vote from caste and community leaders. … The most important survey data show the change over time. In 1971, 51 percent of the respondents agreed that it was “important to vote the way your caste/community does” (30 percent disagreed), but in 1996 the percentages were reversed: 51 percent disagreed with that statement (29 percent agreed). … In 1998, “caste and community” was seen as an issue by only 5.5 percent of the respondents in one poll … and [it] ranked last of nine issues in another. All the evidence points to the fact that these respondents are correct: members of particular castes … can be found voting for every party. … It is less and less true that knowing the caste of a voter lets you reliably predict the party he or she will vote for.

(Oldenburg 1999, 13–15, emphasis in original)

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