Is Caste Relevant in West Bengal Politics Now?

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of the EPW. 

Politics in West Bengal has differed from the rest of the country in terms of ideology as well as agenda. The left with its electoral mobilisation around the issue of class managed to make a mark in West Bengal. Caste, on the other hand, was not seen as a major determining factor. With the Matuas emerging as a distinct presence in the political sphere in the 2011 assembly election, the role of caste in politics in West Bengal became a point of contention.

In this feature, we map the discussion around Praskanva Sinharay’s 2012 article, “A New Politics of Caste,” which argued that the Matua Mahasangha—representative of the Namasudras of West Bengal—asserted  itself politically and changed the caste categories associated with politics in West Bengal. 

In response to Sinharay, Uday Chandra and Kenneth Bo Nielsen say that while caste aggregation may not have been seen earlier in the way the electorate voted, it was always a factor, but was not evident because of a lack of ethnographic research. Sarbani Bandyopadhyay and Partha Chatterjee, in their respective responses, say that colonialism and the partition were important factors in the way caste politics in Bengal was affected. Ranabir Samaddar takes the discussion further by questioning the scale of the Namasudra movement and dismisses the exceptionality of caste politics in West Bengal. In the context of the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, Sinharay refers to his earlier article and contemplates the resurgence of the dominance of the bhadralok. Arvind Kumar and Ayan Guha join the discussion, saying that caste may continue to be less influential in the future of West Bengal due to a pre-existing liberal culture in the state.

Click on the icons to read excerpts from the articles.

A few other works that have broadly responded to or are related to this discussion:

Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at edit@epw.in with the subject line—“Caste and Politics in West Bengal Discussion.”
 

[Curated by Anindita Kar (aninditak10@gmail.com) and Shreedhar Manek (shreedharmanek@gmail.com)]

 

Image Courtesy: Modified. Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0 

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