Himachal polls-2017: Of Rajput rulers and Brahmin kingmakers
The Rajput community has been dominating Himachal Pradesh politics since the first elections in 1995.
Though caste does not make or break poll prospects of politicians in Himachal Pradesh, it plays a crucial role in the hill state’s polity.
Come elections and party cadres fan out across the state to crunch caste numbers to outline the poll strategy in their assembly segments. Both the main political parties, the Congress and the BJP, give due consideration to the caste factor while selecting candidates.
As per the 2011 census, Himachal has a total population of 68,56,509 of which 17,29,252 (25.22%) are Scheduled Castes (SC), 3,92,126 (5.71%) belong to Scheduled Tribes (ST) and 9,27,452 (13.52%) are from Other Backward Classes (OBC).
The rest of the population belongs to upper castes (50.72%) or other communities (4.83%). A further breakup of caste demography shows that among the 50.72% upper castes, 32.72% are Rajputs and 18% Brahmins.
The 68-member assembly has 20 reserved seats, 17 for SCs and three for STs.
The Rajput community has been dominating Himachal Pradesh politics since Dr Yashwant Singh Parmar, who was also a Rajput, became the first chief minister of the state in 1952 and ruled for four consecutive terms. Out of the five chief ministers Himachal has seen, four were Rajputs.
Virbhadra Singh, who has served six terms and 22 years, is a Rajput. Thakur Ram Lal and Prem Kuma Dhumal too belong to this community. BJP’s Shanta Kumar, who led the state twice from 1977 to 1980 and 1990 to 1992, was the only Brahmin to reach this post.
Rajputs have a considerable population in almost all assembly segments and hold sway over Mandi, Shimla, Kullu, Hamirpur and parts of Kangra.
Interestingly, even the party presidents of Congress and BJP have either been Rajputs or Brahmins. Both Congress chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu and BJP state president Satpal Singh Satti, for instance, are Rajputs.
ROLE OF BRAHMINS
Brahmins, the third dominant community in terms of numbers after Rajputs and Scheduled Castes, have given some prominent leaders to the state.
Shanta Kumar, the first non-Congress chief minister of Himachal; Sukh Ram, the father of telecom revolution in India; Anand Sharma, former Union commerce minister, and JP Nadda, the Union health minister, are some examples.
In fact, Sukh Ram once came close to becoming the chief minister when Anand Sharma was also in the race for the top post, but Virbhadra managed to spoil their game. Sukh Ram quit the Congress and formed the Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC) in 1997, which was instrumental in the formation of Dhumal-led BJP government.
Nadda is being considered a frontrunner for the CM’s post in the BJP this time, though Sukh Ram along with his minister son, Anil Sharma, has also joined the saffron party.
Brahmins have been in the role of kingmakers in Himachal but could never rule barring Shanta Kumar, whose two governments could not complete their terms.
OBCs CAN TILT SCALES
It is said that the road to Shimla goes through Kangra. And in Kangra, OBCs call the shots. More than 55% of the hill state’s OBC population lives in Kangra. The community dominates in 18 assembly segments across the state, and nine of these are in Kangra alone.
At present, four of 15 legislators from Kangra are OBCs. Jawali MLA Neeraj Bharati and Sulah legislator Jagjivan Pal were also chief parliamentary secretaries (CPS) in the Virbhadra government.
Other districts with considerable OBC population are Una (15.01%), Hamirpur (7.83%), Sirmaur (6.86%) and Solan (4.25%). If the community votes en masse, it can tilt the scales in favour of any party.
SCs JUST A VOTE BANK
Only second to Rajputs in terms of their number, the SC community has remained just a vote bank of political parties. Except for the 17 reserved assembly segments, no party has ever fielded a candidate from the SC community on unreserved seats. The community has a considerable presence among employees, businessmen, farmers, horticulturists and even politicians. But when it comes to power sharing, they get a raw deal. The present cabinet has only one SC minister.
No SC politician has ever reached the post of chief minister. Of the 68 assembly seats, 17 are reserved for SCs, while three (Bharmaur, Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti) are earmarked for the Scheduled Tribe category.
Gaddis are a dominant community among the Scheduled Tribes of Himachal Pradesh and dominate the Chamba and Kangra districts. The present Cabinet has one Gaddi in Thakar Singh Bhamouri, who represents Bharmour assembly segment in Chamba.
The tribe has considerable population in 12 assembly segments of Kangra and Chamba. Tulsi Ram, who scraped by with only 16 votes in 2012, became a speaker, and Thakur Sen Negi, a powerful leader from Kinnaur, was the longest serving speaker .