In every dynamic society, there lie different groups divided by their differences in inequalities, disadvantages, and differences which are deemed to be ‘social divisions’. With an aim of winning elections, democratic competition has the power to divide society. While many political parties are formed with an objective to represent different class interests, the question of whether social divisions affect politics is still long argued by political analysts. Voters from varying social groups respond to the group-based appeals that many political campaigns emphasize. In this way, the influence of social division on electoral politics appears to be inevitable.
The political role of social groups is evident in many ways. Some of them are:
A common strategy adopted by political parties is to nominate members from different social groups which ultimately influence the political orientations of voters. Taking loyalty for their respective social groups into consideration, voters are inclined towards candidates belonging to their social stratum with a hope that they might promote their common interests and ideology as represented by their group
2. Social Movements and Pressure Groups
In various democratic countries, including India, there are many social groups and movements mobilizing people belonging to a particular stratum so as to advocate their interests in politics at the macro level. Such pressure groups are formed with an objective to promote their interests and prevent any form of neglect towards them by the ruling party. In India, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Arya Samaj are some examples of such pressure groups that articulate their interests.
3. Voting Behavior
Different political parties representing different class interests expect that voters will cast their votes in favor of their party. The candidates also make caste and religious appeals during their electoral campaign for the purpose of accumulating support. Social division consideration is thus given great weight in the selection of a candidate.
Regrouping the electoral population on the basis of the existing social division provides a primary channel for political parties to mobilize support and secure voters’ vote banks. In countries where the majority of the voters are illiterate, such a strategy of ‘divide and rule’ is likely to impact political processes. Politics is shaped by different cultural and ethnic varieties. Such pluralism can have either positive or negative effects. On one hand, such divisions can be used as a source of unity that binds the nation together.
But on the other hand, it can also lead to unhealthy struggle among different ideologies and groups to seek power and promote their social traditions. People who oppose the intersection of politics with social groups hold the view that both of these things represent opposing systems of values. They believe that the presence of social division within political parties may also lead to factionalism. When people perceive themselves as individuals rather than as a component of a diverse society, the demands of different social groups become difficult to accommodate. Such a power struggle among different class interests may prove to be harmful to the unity of a nation.
4. Impact on the Organizational Structure of the Government
As social division is a dominant factor in electoral processes, it also plays a key role in the government’s decision-making. The ruling party is obliged to use its decision-making ability to win the support of the majority class. The impact of such social division is thus not only limited to an election but also the national interest inclusive of decision making
- Local Government Politics: Beyond the union and state government legislation, the local government is majorly affected by social division. For instance, in rural areas, due to low literacy rates, voters elect their candidates based on caste, religion, and other demographic factors of social division.
- Social division and political instability: In various countries, there are instances of violence and social instability that shape the politics of their nation. The struggle for power among the traditional groups leads to conflicts and differences that seem irreconcilable. Moreover, the social harmony among different groups is disturbed by such violent repercussions of politics.
- Working of Civil Machinery: The bureaucracy in running its administration is influenced by social divisions such as providing reservation provisions for weaker sections of society in jobs and education. Such provisions are promoted with an aim to create an atmosphere of unity among distinguished groups.
By 1992, Yugoslavia disintegrated into six different independent countries owing to the power struggle among different political parties representing different cultures and religions. A similar crisis took place in Northern Ireland when the Catholics represented by the Nationalist party wanted Northern Ireland to be unified with the Republic of Ireland. On the other hand, Protestants represented the unionists demanded to remain with the UK. This conflict between the two opposing sects of Christianity resulted in a social conflict in the country that took many civilian lives. While such examples are addressed with anxiety that the interconnection of social division and politics is always harmful to the unity of a nation, it is not the case. The prevalence of social divisions, if dealt with properly, can make a nation look multi-cultured.
While caste-ridden politics cannot be fully removed from electoral procedures, it should not affect the national integration and sovereignty of a country. Social divisions based on various factors are a component of politics. The close relationship between social division and politics may also result, on the contrary, that is, strengthening national unity and at the same time recognizing the existing differences. This is only possible when the government promotes social mobility. As long as the interaction of social groups and political institutions does not affect the secular nature of a nation, it contributes to the structural democratic setup. Social division is an entrenched factor affecting politics. From scrutinizing the social profile of a candidate to forming support bases of social groups to political parties, social divisions affect political processes. However, the outcome of such influence on politics is dependent on how the government reacts to such wide demands. It is easier to accommodate those demands that exist within the constitutional framework in the form of provisions and special laws than to accommodate those demands which come at the cost of another community.
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