Religion, Caste system in voting behaviour of Sikkim

We all know that India is a democratic country. It gives its citizens liberty and freedom under the provisions of the constitution of India. India is a sovereign state and a federal republic where there is a President and the Prime Minister. It has a prime ministerial system. The constitution of India gives its citizens, all the rights and duties. It bounds the citizens by set of rules and regulations. As far as the research is concerned, it is conducted to study the effect of religion and caste system in Sikkim’s voting behaviour. Talking about voting in India, any person who 18 years or older is eligible to vote in the elections. The Indian Constitution has granted the right to vote to all Indian citizens of sound mind above the age of 18, irrespective of an individual’s caste, religion, social or economic status. However, there are several terms and conditions for it. As an eligible voter, the applicant is required to register himself or herself for the process of voting. With elections under way in every state of India, all Indian citizens are given a chance to exercise their franchise and participate in the electoral process. As a voter, you are entitled to certain rights and privileges as laid down by the Constitution, which safeguards the rights of the voter. It also lays down the conditions under which this privilege is granted to citizens. Voting is not a fundamental right, but is a legal right granted to the citizens.

 it is important to know some facts about this State.  Sikkim is a state in Northeast India. It is one of the fastest growing, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual Indian state. It shares national and international borders. It has Tibet in the north and northeast, Bhutan in the east, Nepal in the west and West Bengal in the south. Sikkim is least populous and in area wise, it is the second smallest state among the Indian states. It was an Independent country before it merged to India as a State, the members of the assembly in 1975 thereby passed a resolution stating that Sikkim was now part of India. Thereafter on 15 May 1975, the President of India ratified a constitutional amendment that made Sikkim the 22nd state of India. The total number of seats in the assembly is 32, including one seat reserved for the Sangha (which is reserved for the monks). Now extending its spheres geographically, roughly three-fourths of Sikkim’s residents are Nepalese in origin and most speak a Nepali dialect and are Hindu in religion and culture.

About one-fifth of the population consists of Scheduled Tribes (an official category embracing indigenous peoples who fall outside the predominant Indian social hierarchy). The most prominent of these tribal groups are the Bhutia, the Lepcha, and the Limbu. They all speak Tibeto-Burman languages and practice Mahayana Buddhism (one sect of Buddhism) as well as the indigenous Bon religion. There is a notable Christian minority in Sikkim, as well as a tiny community of Muslims. A small fraction of Sikkim’s people belongs to the Scheduled Castes (an official term designating those peoples who traditionally have occupied a low position within the Indian caste system).

Now viewing the State politically, the state of Sikkim has a governor which is appointed by the president of India, as the head of state. The governor is aided by the state Council of Ministers, which is led by a Chief Minister. Every Indian State has a legislative assembly, The Legislative Assembly (Vidhan Sabha) is a unicameral elected body, with a portion of the seats allocated to the combined Lepcha and Bhutia populations. One Lepcha-Bhutia seat is reserved for the nominee of the lamas (Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders); some seats also are reserved for representatives of the Scheduled Castes. Judicially, the final court is the High Court at Gangtok (the capital of Sikkim) from where appeals may be made to the Supreme Court of India. Lower courts include district courts, which handle both criminal and civil cases, and sessions courts, which generally handle civil cases. Geographically if we see, the state is divided into four districts. Within each district, local headmen serve as guardians between the people and the district administration. Panchayats (village councils) administer the villages and implement welfare programs. The voting rights and pattern in Sikkim are similar as embedded by the Constitution of India. Elections are conducted after every 5 years as we all know it. As this research is about the influence of religion and caste system in the voting behaviour of the people, it is very important to know about the history of development of religion and caste system, particularly in India. As we all know that religion is the key factor which plays a very important role in bonding of the society, the way it functions and how it has been maintaining its continuity ever after.

India is a secular State, there are as many as ten recognised religion in the country. As a matter of fact, various religions practised its own way of promoting their religious ideologies but this particular motive has turned out the other way round where political leaders has been claiming their votes by using religious interpretations. As per the records of voting (post Lok Sabha polls), we could find out that the participation of voters turned on when religious interferences were more rather than political promises made by the leaders.  If we view the society as a group of people residing in a particular area there can be a mixed population where members practise their own religion; meaning different people from different religious groups settle in one society. Hence, we may find out cases where religious groups may form political communities, shaping and mobilizing their members. Electoral activities seemed more when religion is on the preference of each and every member or the population of a particular area. Whether it is a traditional or a modern society, religion always had a major effect on elections. No matter what the pattern of the society may be, religion always played an important role in the way a society is functioning.

Let’s take an example, be it the peasants or the workers, whenever their religious figures recommend of voting, most of them participate and vote for that candidate. And in modern societies, there are lots of elements used by the leaders to shake the graph of voting and religion can also be considered as one. Talking about it globally, in U.S.A. political speeches have been a strategy in promoting favours of voting. Many candidates have now realized that mixing religion with politics is way better and effective in pulling votes rather than speeches related to development of the area or a nation. Various post poll analysis supports these facts. Hence, politicians have recognized the necessity of pure faith in winning high political office with the support of religion. This research will be a clarification on how religion has been used in elections. When we see in India, the effect of two important religions, Hinduism and Islam also should be studied upon to take the research further as the root of influence of religion in politics is mainly because of the division of religious views of Hinduism and Islam. These two religions have been making huge impact on the voting behaviour during elections in India. One of the major examples of how these two religions have impacted on the working of the nation has been the division of the nation itself and the creation of two countries i.e. India and Pakistan. Among many reasons, the influence of religion had played a major role for such bifurcation.

If we compare the pre-independence and post-independence era of India, we can say that, it was in the British India (pre-independence) that the traditional society was highly inclined towards religion, various leaders and also many political parties were formed during that era. There were various political and religious developments during this time. For example, the Muslim league was formed as a result of which religion-based politics started in India and we can assure to give this example for the commencement of religion-based politics in India2. Another example is the Morley – Minto reforms, in which the system of communal electorates was introduced. Because of this political dualism, neither Hindu nor Muslim politicians needed the support of the other community. Society was then institutionalised by the system of religious politics and the Muslim leaders were supported by the Muslim population while the Hindu leaders were supported by their own religious community.

As far as post-independence era is concerned, the constitution of 1949 abolished the system of communal electorates (election based on communal reference). After independence, caste, religion and language were the only three distinct categories of communities that figured prominently in the extraction of votes in elections.  They continue to remain probably the most effective factors in political mobilization.

Hence, we can say that it is historically proclaimed that the religion and caste based politics has emerged, as a result of which this research will be based on the communal factor of voting and questioning of whether the people truly exercise their vote in favour of religion or do they vote looking and analysing the capability of the candidates without any fear or favour of caste and religion.

by Aadarsh Chettri

SC Bureau

Sikkim Chronicle is a unit of Yonika Infotainment Pvt. Limited. Sikkim’s first registered digital news platform which believes to provide right, reliable and credible news and information to the people of Sikkim and around. We have endeavored to appropriately credit the source of all intellectual property we share through this community.

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