Guess where the head office of ‘Vote Bank’ is?

Ramachandra Guha, in The Hindu Sunday Magazine today, traces the origin of the term ‘Vote Bank’, used with gay abandon by voters, reporters and anchors. And—surprise, surprise—it lands at our very doorstep:

“Vote bank” was coined by the sociologist M.N. Srinivas…Srinivas took his first degree in Mysore and then went to Bombay for his graduate work. His PhD thesis was on the religion of the Coorgs (or Kodavas as we would now call them). He then did another PhD at Oxford, his second thesis a reworking of the first with the help of the (then) advanced theory of structural-functionalism.

“The Kodavas in the 1940s were rather isolated and apolitical. However, in the early 1950s, Srinivas did a second spell of fieldwork in a peasant village not far from Mysore, which he named “Rampura”. This was a time of intense social change. Irrigation water from the Kaveri was making subsistence farmers moderately prosperous. The Constitution of India was giving Dalits rights for the first time in living memory. The elections mandated by the Constitution were bringing party politics into the village.

“Srinivas first reported his Rampura research in a long essay he wrote for a seminar organised by the University of Chicago. “The Social System of a Mysore Village” dealt principally with the relations between the different caste groups. A section on “patrons and clients” spoke of the relationship of dependence and obligation between master and servant, landlord and tenant, creditor and debtor; the first term in these relationships always denoting a person of a higher caste than the second.

The last paragraph of this section ran as follows:

The word “party” has become a Kannada word. Every administrator and politician speaks of “party politics” in villages, and even villagers are often heard saying, “There is too much ‘party’ in such and such a village”.

“The coming of elections gives fresh opportunities for the crystallization of parties around patrons. Each patron may be said to have a “vote bank” which he can place at the disposal of a provincial or national party for a consideration which is not mentioned but implied. The secret ballot helps to preserve the marginal affiliation of the marginal clients.”

Read the full column: The career of a concept