Seeking OBC Status: Political Strategies of Two Dominant Castes

Date01 December 2014
DOI10.1177/2321023014551874
Published date01 December 2014
AuthorRajeshwari Deshpande
Subject MatterArticles
Military-Madrasa-Mullah Complex 169
India Quarterly, 66, 2 (2010): 133–149
A Global Threat 169
Article
Seeking OBC Status: Political
Strategies of Two Dominant Castes
Rajeshwari Deshpande
Abstract
This article investigates the claims of backwardness made by two dominant castes, the Lingayats in
Karnataka and the Marathas in Maharashtra. It argues that the narratives of OBCization of the Lingayats
and the Marathas present an interesting account of how the dominant castes manipulate the state
institutional discourse of reservations to seek political legitimacy. The article also attempts to posit
the claims of backwardness of these two castes against each other in order to develop a comparative
understanding of the state-specific patterns of caste politics. Finally, the article tries to assess whether
and how the dominant castes are able to (re)construct their dominance under the changing circum-
stances and what the implications of this strategy are for the project of hegemony.
Keywords
Dominant caste, OBCs, backwardness, Marathas, Lingayats, Maharashtra, Karnataka, reservations, caste
The present article tries to decipher, in a comparative perspective, the claims to other backward class
(OBC) status made by two dominant castes. It looks at historical trajectories of the Marathas and the
Lingayats, from neighbouring regions to contextualize the issues related to their contemporary politics
and also to revisit the politics of the dominant castes1 in the post-Mandal context.
The stories of the Marathas and the Lingayats share many common aspects as both Maharashtra
and Karnataka developed a well-knit Congress system (Kothari, 1964) in the 1950s and the 1960s. The
system presided over a neat combination of political, social/ideological and material interests and
the two regionally dominant caste clusters operated at its centre stage. However, with the first cracks to
their (and to that of the Congress party’s) dominance in the later decade, the stories of these two castes
acquire complex spatial and temporal dimensions as they struggled to retain control over the regional
political space. While the strategies adopted by these dominant castes in the realm of formal competitive
politics manifest different patterns in the two states, it is interesting to see how they appropriate OBC
status in order to sustain their dominance in electoral politics. The article argues that the narratives of
OBCization2 of the Lingayats and the Marathas present interesting account of how the dominant castes
manipulate the state institutional discourse of reservations to seek political legitimacy. Recourse to the
route of OBCization also underlines the internal material disparities of these castes that open up in the
wake of economic changes in the regional societies. This strategy allows the concerned caste clusters to
simultaneously negotiate the internal stratifications and the distance between the dominant caste and
Rajeshwari Deshpande, Department of Politics & Public Administration, Savitribai Phule Pune University
E-mail: rajeshwari.deshpande@gmail.com
Studies in Indian Politics
2(2) 169–183
© 2014 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London,
New Delhi, Singapore,
Washington DC
DOI: 10.1177/2321023014551874
http://inp.sagepub.com

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