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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lower Castes Likely to Gain From Elections

NEW DELHI -- India's impoverished low caste Hindus and other minorities are emerging as clear winners in India's parliamentary elections, political analysts said.

They said Thursday results, with no clear mandate for any major national party to rule, would nudge the country toward giving more powers to India's 26 states.

This in turn would boost the influence of increasingly vocal regional parties that have tended to be more in touch with the concerns of lower-caste groups and the poor.

"The most important development indicated from the results is the ascendance of social justice," former Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh said. "Do not look at which party will get to rule after the elections. Try to see the people within all the parties and you will find a deep social change has taken place."

About 30 small parties took part in the Indian elections, which has had upper caste prime ministers, including incumbent P.V. Narasimha Rao, since independence in 1947.

The caste system stems from India's ancient hierarchy based on heredity, which derives its strength from religious sanction.

At the top is the former priestly caste of Brahmins. Dalits, or untouchables, are on the bottom rung.

India's ruling Congress party and the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, until recently had been regarded as predominantly upper caste Hindu parties.

Both parties advocate a strong central government, a stance resented by important regional groups, the main beneficiaries from the election results so far.

The two parties vigorously opposed Singh's call, when he was prime minister in 1990, to secure government job quotas for lower caste Hindus.

Analysts said both parties had subsequently fallen in line with Singh's socialist Janata Dal party as they wooed the crucial vote bank of Hindus on the lower rungs of the caste heap.

"They are assiduously courting low caste Hindu leaders since 1991 in an effort to shed their upper caste bias," said Ram Vilas Paswan, a Janata Dal deputy representing the Hindu "untouchable" caste of Paswans.

He said the BJP, which publicly frowns on caste-based alliances as anti-national, had quietly projected low caste Hindus as leaders in the key states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra, where their support was crucial. Neither the BJP nor the Congress accepts the charge of caste bias. Their critics are not convinced.

"Why have they dropped the number of Brahmins and other upper castes from the poll fray?" Paswan asked. "Is it a coincidence that fewer and fewer Brahmins and other upper castes are getting elected with every election since 1991?"