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February 14, 2000
The evil that envelopes Orissa
M I Khan in Bhubaneswar
Caste, that unashamed meddler in most things Indian, has made its presence felt in the ensuing Orissa election.
But then, it always has. Maybe not so overtly as you would find in, say, Bihar, but nonetheless significantly. Let's take a look how.
Brahmins and Kayasths (more popular as Karans), see right up the list of Oriyan politicians and you will find that these castes have been dominating the electoral scene for the last 50 years. Take a look at all the leading parties in the state - isn't it either a Brahmin or Karan that you see at the helm?
Yes. The Patnaiks - Biju, J B, Naveen - are Karans. Nandini Satpathy is a Brahimin. And so it goes.
From 1980 to 2000, it was Karan leaders who ruled the state -- J B Patnaik for the first 14 years and Biju for five. In between there came two tribal leaders: Giridhar Gamang and Hemanand Biswal.
Luckily for Orissa, the caste card is not something that its politicians are proud to use. As Jagdish Pradhan, the editor of Gaunli Vichar, says:
"Caste politics hardly draws any attention as it is downplayed by the two prominent politicians."
Pradhan however is among the first to conted that, despite this, the evil swings a lot of clout in his state. If caste is not a factor then why is it that only Brahmins and Karans have ruled the state for most part of the last 50 years, he asks.
"In the unreserved category of assembly seats, about 80 per cent of the candidates are Brahmins or Karans," says Pradhan.
Of the total 147 assembly seats, about 50 seats are reserved for the backward castes.
Currently the ruling Congress is headed by a Karan. Similarly, the main opposition, the Biju Janata Dal, is under another of the same caste: Naveen Patnaik.
The state unit of the BJP may be headed by a Khandayat, Manmohan Samal, but that is merely on paper. In reality, the Brahmins of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh controls it.
Similarly, Karans and Brahmin head the Left parties in the state. Pradhan holds that these two camps are playing their caste card very shrewdly.
The first chief minister of Orissa, the late Nabakrishna Chaudhry was a Karan by caste. He was succeeded by Harekrushna Mahtab, a Chatriya (Rajput). After him, another Karan Biran Mitra became the CM. Biju Patnaik succeeded him.
Then came Sadashiv Tripathy, a Brahimin. He was followed by Biswanath Das, his caste brother.
In the early 70s, a Chatriya, R N Singh Deo, became the chief minister.
Then Nandini Satpathy came to power. She was succeeded by another Brahmin, Binayak Acharya.
It was only in 1977 that a backward caste politician, Nilamani Routray, became chief minister. Even then, it is believed that he was just a rubber stamp of Biju Patnaik.
In Orissa, Brahmins constitute about seven per cent of the population while the Karans are about four per cent.
"Whenever, a tribal has become the chief minister of the Congress, the Karan and Brahmin lobbies within the party have campaigned so that the high command replaced him. It is evident in the way Gridhar Gamang was replaced last year," an observer says.
With the entry of the Bahujan Samaj Party this time around, it looks like the two-caste system of domination is in for a stiff challenge.
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