The Mandal Comission, established in 1979, by the ruling Janata Party had sought to “identify the socially or educationally backward classes” in the country. After years of research and opposition, it was finally implemented by VP Singh in 1990 and was validated by the Supreme Court. The intent was to bring about social and economic empowerment to the backward castes which weren’t traditionally given reservation in the government jobs. However, this report paved the way for the emergence of regional parties in the country, classifying the era thereafter as “Post Mandal Politics”. The two commonalities of the Post Mandal Politics was the influx of regional parties, solely based on caste-based politics and the other was growing trend of alliance governments, where the national party supported by a number of regional parties, all garnering the support of their individual castes fitting under the larger umbrella.
The emergence of caste politics has been seen in relation to the rise of the regional parties. The Mandal Commission had effectively reinforced a person’s caste identity and had divided the citizens on its basis. Due to the benefits being conferred on the individual, the caste became extremely important and suddenly it seemed as though it was the only thing that mattered. Traditionally the down trodden section of the society, the backward castes were now given an opportunity of social and economic upward mobility, something which had been rare in the past. The regional parties, viewing them as a dispersed set of people, with socio-economic opportunities set to mobilize them and guide them. The citizens on the other hand, now wanted to expand these benefits conferred by the government and sought to achieve political significance. What resulted was the regional parties openly declaring themselves as being supportive of one particular caste. The vote bank was bound by just one factor, caste.
The entirety of the regional parties had mobilized the dominant caste in their respective states through this, including SP and BSP in UP, RJD in Bihar, TDP in Andhra Pradesh, BJD in Odisha, DMK in Tamil Nadu, amongst many others. Due to this, the regional caste based parties are till date successful in forming the government at the state level. However, this immense mobilization had led to people being divided at the national level, with no one party garnering the support of the majority of the people. This is why, the Post Mandal Politics witnessed more than two decades of governments being vacated before the term was up, some even lasting for a few months. Those which did actually continue for a term, namely, the governments under PV Narsimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, were in power due to support of the other parties. None of the parties had succeeded in getting a full majority of the parliament, and this saga actually began with the NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
In 1999, after 3 elections of unstable governments lasting for a few months, BJP led NDA had managed to complete the Lok Sabha term. The BJP had established itself at the centre with the support of more than 50 regional allies, including, Shiv Sena, JD(U), BJD, DMK, TMC, JKNC and RLD. The mandate was fractured as BJP, the largest party, had managed to secure just 182 seats in the parliament. The majority mark in the 545 seat Lok Sabha was made with the help of the regional parties who had garnered the support of their respective castes in each of the states, thus enabling NDA to form the government at the centre.
This practice was continued in the next successive terms, when Congress led UPA was in power. Congress had secured 145 seats in the election, a mere 7 seats more than BJP’s 138 seats. Nevertheless, they had formed strong alliances with regional parties such as RJD, DMK, TRS, PDP and IUML and also had the external support of SP and BSP which had help them achieve a comfortable majority of 335 seats in the parliament. The same practice was repeated in 2009, when even though the Congress’ mandate had increased to 206 seats, it wasn’t enough to form the government without the support of the allies. Thus, one of the blowbacks of Mandal Commission had led to an unwavering pattern of dependence on regional parties and alliances to form the government at the centre level.
In 2014, the prevailing political scenario took an unexpected turn. BJP led by PM Modi had emerged victorious in the Lok Sabha elections, winning a staggering 282 seats, above the parliament majority mark by 9 seats. The regional parties had taken an unexpected hit, with parties such as BSP, DMK, and RLD failing to secure even a single seat, and other strong regional parties such as SP and RJD being reduced to single digits. Nevertheless, some parties such as TMC in West Bengal had managed to secure their state with a comfortable majority. For the first time, vote bank politics hadn’t managed to make any difference in the mandate and the citizens were united. The 2014 elections had been held in the backdrop of numerous corruption charges on Congress and the absurd level of inflation in the country, with India being rendered to the position of the ‘fragile 5’ economies. In this situation, BJP had emerged as an alternative to the decades of regional and caste-based politics coupled with the dynastic politics of the country. The focus on nationalism and development had rendered the caste equations largely ineffective.
The final nail in the coffin of post-Mandal politics, however, came with the 2019 elections where every caste equation, the elixir on which regional parties sustained, was shattered thoroughly and BJP received a staggering majority. The party had obtained 303 seats in the Parliament which was enough to form a comfortable government, even without the support of the allies, something which hadn’t happened since the historic election of 1984. The regional parties had taken a massive blow this time around, especially since BJP had received more votes than all the regional parties combined in 16 states and union territories of the country. Regional parties such as TMC which were holding the majority in their states had been rendered to a mere 22 seats, just 4 more than BJP’s tally. The alliance of the much-touted SP-BSP has lost miserably and is well on its way towards a painful split.
More so than the nationalism narrative that had been prevailing, the citizens had rejected the dynastic ideologies which seem to go simultaneously with the regional parties’ caste-based politics. Dynasts such as chief of TRS, KCR’s daughter Kalvakuntla Kavitha didn’t get elected from her constituency, along with NCP chief, Sharad Pawar’s nephew Parth Pawar who lost from his seat. Nikhil Kumaraswamy, grandson of H. D. Deve Gowda too had lost from his seat.
The 2019 elections have shown that the citizens have finally shed their caste-based preferences for the greater good of the nation. All the people, irrespective of the caste have united and voted for PM Modi which has resulted in the staggering mandate. The regressive politics which the Mandal Commission had given rise to, are finally at bay. Due to the caste being an irrelevant factor, the citizens no longer find it worthy to support the regional parties. The alliance era that essentially started with BJP has now come to a full circle with PM Modi breaking the wheel.