A court-imposed ban on caste-based rallies may not be a legal or effective idea to counter the influence of caste in politics. But the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court has pronounced such a stay with immediate effect on the basis of a PIL filed in the court. The court has not taken into consideration the views of central or state governments, political parties or the Election Commission on the matter.
It has sought their views but has passed its stay order in a hurry. The order may have been prompted by the court’s concern over the domination of politics by caste. This may be true to a greater extent in UP than in some other states and regions. But that does not make a judicial ban on caste rallies sound.
However undesirable it may be, caste has remained a reality in social life all over the country. It has also been a tool of social and political mobilisation. This has been a part of the changing and expanding democratic process. Entire political philosophies have been formulated on the basis of the aspirations of suppressed social groups, and parties have been formed on their basis. The existence of such parties has been recognised and accepted, though some of them would not claim that they represent only a particular caste or castes. This has also resulted in the empowerment of many groups and sections of people who were on the margins of mainstream politics. It would be discriminatory to ban their activity. The holding of rallies could only be considered a legitimate political activity. If there is a reasonable ground to believe that a rally can be a threat to peace and public order, there may be a case for a ban. The political executive actually does that on many occasions. But a blanket ban on all rallies may violate the fundamental right to freedom of association. The electoral code of conduct forbids parties from appealing to caste or communal feelings to secure votes but this cannot be extended to the holding of rallies in support of a cause or demand at all times.
It is also practically difficult to implement such a ban. A caste-based rally may be able to evade the ban if it presents itself as a congregation under some other banner or with some other label. In any case a ban on caste rallies will not drive caste away from politics.