India’s experiment in mass democratization has been explained and legitimized with the help of a persuasive model: the ideal-type concept of the “dominant one-party system”. Continuously elaborated and adjusted, it has served to analyze India’s political evolution and idealize its peculiar variant of secularism, federalism and (Congress-dominated) party politics. In addition, it has upheld the Congress Party’s ideology and programme. Like every model, it accentuates certain features, while marginalizing others – the mechanisms of political patronage, institutional decay, persistent poverty and caste politics. Partha Chatterjee’s concept of a “political (caste) society”, in contrast to a full-fledged civil society, opens the perspective to an analysis of the mechanisms and routines by which fully mobilized and assertive caste elites dominate and exploit parties, patronage and the state, especially at the regional and local level. The paper attempts, first, to demonstrate the ideological limitations of the prevailing “dominant party” model. Then it describes the arenas and procedures of the politicized caste society: the distribution of party “tickets”, dynastic (caste) politics and competition for (caste) vote banks and a minimal winning coalition of castes. Finally, it outlines an accelerating clash of interests. Whereas the mobilized and politicized caste society occupies and exploits the institutions of the state and the “commanding heights” of the planned economy, the imperatives of market liberalization and globalization demand a retrenchment of caste patronage and a reform of strategic institutions on the basis of merit and open access – to ensure those growth rates on which India’s political caste-society and mass-politics now depend.