How do we change the focus of politics from caste/religion to grass-root issues?
Are the grass root issues independent of the caste and religious factors? Are they two independent entities or the two sides of the same coin, is a question that needs to be addressed before going about discussing how do we change the focus.
Numerous grass root issues exist in the present day scenario and the most glaring of them is poverty. For discussion sake, let us consider poverty an important issue and try to answer the question in discussion. Available statistics show that at least a quarter of our population are not in a position to afford a square meal per day and the ground reality is even worse, if the cases relative poverty and those who are living on the margins are also taken into account. One widely accepted cause for this kind of poverty is the lack of education and awareness. When one looks into this grass root issue, the solution seems to be quite obvious and simple. Extending education to the affected would make them aware and address to their poverty issues also. But in actuality, it’s not that simple an issue to be addressed. Unlike the Scandinavian countries, where the government extends a suitable job opportunity to every single citizen based on his abilities, it is literally impossible for us to extend job opportunities to everybody so as to address the issue of poverty. In order to effectively address the issue of poverty, the solution lies in identifying and grooming the indigenous knowledge possessed by people – knowledge that was accumulated and perfected over the centuries and creating ample channels to convert that knowledge into livelihood or in other words, encouraging to the cottage industries.
For a moment, lets step out of this discussion and try to understand something about India and the Indian society. In the past, a couple of other successful civilizations co-existed and thrived around the same time as ours but vanished from history in a few centuries. While their descendants exist today, it is not essentially the same kind of society that had once flourished and was highly successful. Ours is a bit different and unique in the sense not only did it society stand the test of time but most of the customs and practices have also survived. One of the key factors for this success is the ‘village’ of India the role of which has commanded the appreciation of all those who attempted to decipher the secret of this success. Every village was a self-contained, self-sufficient and a complete system. Everything that was necessary for a particular community was produced and consumed within the community itself. This could be held as the origin and the meaning of the caste system. It was largely an occupational classification where different castes addressed to different needs of the society and they were mutually dependent on each other for their individual needs and over the years the corresponding castes have accumulated knowledge over their trade. Numerous examples can be cited to prove this assertion.
Getting back to the topic of discussion, if the cottage industry needs to be given adequate importance, it indirectly means touching upon the caste identity and consciousness of the people. It can be argued that with education we can train anybody to do any job but the efficiency of such a proposal needs to be checked and it may not be possible to see the results anytime in the near future. For instance, it may not be a very good idea to pick somebody dairying community and make him study electrical engineering. There is a fair chance that this might further aggravate the problem by leading to some sort of identity crisis. Rather it might be a good idea to impart education regarding dairying itself, which could amount to honing the accumulated knowledge and adjusting the trade to the contemporary needs. As seen above, this scheme would surely touch upon the caste consciousness.
If the major work of politics is policy making which ultimately has to cater to the needs of different sections of the society, it is next to impossible to remove the caste factor from it. The success in resolving the grass root problems thus remains in the fact, how the caste card is played in the game of politics. If seen in the proper perspective, it may well be used in a constructive manner to address not only poverty but many other grass root issues also. Alternatively it could well be played in a divisive and destructing manner, and the standing testimony to that case are some of the present day’s grass root issues. It would not be wrong to consider that these issues are partly because of the very same fact.