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Caste and community break-up of the new Lok Sabha

ByGilles Verniers
Jun 07, 2024 01:58 PM IST

This article examines the caste profile of the new Lok Sabha by coding the caste of the main parties’ candidates as well as MPs

Caste was at the heart of the 2024 general elections. The two contending alliances, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and Indian National Developmental Democratic Alliance (INDIA) , offered two contrasting visions of inclusion and social justice. The BJP focused on the integration of Hindu castes under a common religious umbrella. It promoted a welfare apparatus that targets individuals rather than groups. INDIA, on the other hand, made caste a key instrument of social justice, promising representation and a welfare regime that recognises the role caste plays in perpetuating inequalities. Both alliances claim to be inclusive of India’s caste diversity.

A view of the Lok Sabha in the new Parliament building. (File Photo)

This article examines the caste profile of the new Lok Sabha by coding the caste of the main parties’ candidates as well as MPs. The data was collected through a network of collaborators that includes journalists, academics, and state experts. The data also builds on historical data collected by the SPINPER Project.

A boost of OBC representation

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In aggregate terms, the first observation is that “upper caste” representation has decreased in 2024, from 155 MPs to 140. The representation of intermediary castes (including, for the most part, historically landowning agrarian castes such as Lingayats, Vokkaligas, Marathas, Reddys or Jats) is stable (from 78 to 74 MPs).

The OBC representation has increased, rising from 124 to 138 MPs. There are three fewer Muslim MPs (24) and two more Sikh MPs (13). The representation of Christians remains stable, even though this category overlaps with several Scheduled Tribe MPs who are here coded as ST. In terms of percentages, these numbers do not signal any major variations. The share of “upper caste” MPs has decreased merely from 28.5% to 25.8%.

The changes are more noticeable if one isolates the Hindi belt. In 2024, the share of upper caste MPs in these regions has decreased from 38.9% to 32.7%. The share of intermediary caste MPs remains stable (6%). The share of OBC MPs has increased from 25.7% to 31%. Muslim representation remains stable at 8.4%.

The BJP has lost 51 seats in the Hindi belt. Twenty-two of these seats were held by upper caste MPs, against only 7 by OBC MPs. Six intermediate caste MPs also lost their seats. The influx of new OBC MPs has come – unsurprisingly – from the Samajwadi Party (SP), which saw 19 OBC candidates elected out of the 37 seats won. The Congress’s 26 MPs in the Hindi belt are well distributed across caste groups. Upper caste BJP MPs appear to have faced greater anti-incumbency than BJP MPs from other groups.

The spike in OBC representation induced by the SP may not be surprising, given the party’s history and identity. What may be more surprising is the fact that only 5 of the party’s 19 OBC MPs are Yadavs. The others belong to various OBC groups, including Kurmis, Lodhs, Nishads, Shakyas, Mauryas, Koeris and Bharbhunjas.

Comparing alliances

How did the two alliances – and the main parties within them – fare both in terms of nomination and representation? The NDA nominated more upper caste candidates than the INDIA bloc (31.3% against 19.2%). The difference in terms of MPs is stark. The NDA provides more upper caste representation in relative terms (33.2% of its MPs, against 12.4% for INDIA). This is not surprising given that the INDIA is mostly made up of Southern regional parties that have a history of giving representation to backward groups. The higher OBC representation within Congress (30.7% of its MPs) is more unusual, as well as the fact that a party such as SP truly diversified its recruitment of candidates, emulating the BJP’s outreach to non-dominant backward groups.

The representation of religious minorities is the second major difference between the two alliances. They make up 12.7% of INDIA candidates, against a paltry 1.7% for the NDA, which nominated only five Muslim candidates (all of whom lost).

It must be noted that this descriptive exercise has limitations. For instance, there is an overlap between religious and ST categories, which is not reflected here. Further, both Christian and Muslim communities are divided by caste, ST by communities. Our data does not yet allow us to provide a detailed picture of this diversity.

Still, the data reveals a persistence of skewed upper caste representation among the NDA, even though it is more inclusive than it was in the 1990s. States such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh remain as dominated as ever by intermediary castes.

This glance at the caste and community profile of the new Lok Sabha tells us that the diversification of backward class representation continues and is now embraced by more major parties. This marks a significant transformation of India’s representational politics, indicating that India is progressing towards a more representative polity. However, two limitations remain. First, the inclusion of non-dominant backward classes remains limited to a few large North Indian states. Representational patterns in the South, East, and Western India remain unchanged by and large and skewed towards locally dominant groups. Second, political recruitment strategies of parties across the board still leave Muslims behind.

Gilles Verniers is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and Karl Loewenstein Fellow at Amherst College, Massachusetts, USA. Views are personal

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