Caste-Card Helped BJP Win Hindi-Belt!

Should Modi-wave really be credited for having ensured Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a stunning victory in elections to 16th Lok Sabha? As the new government takes charge, now is the time to reflect on factors that may have contributed to BJP’s return to power. Ostensibly, it seems that Modi’s emphasis on development helped him convince the electorate that this is what his aim really is. Of course, Modi is not expected to take major steps on this path in a short while. But yes, it may not be long before voters start deliberating on development the country is heading for with Narendra Modi as its 14th Prime Minister.

Modi’s development-agenda was not, however, the only cause of BJP’s electoral success. Had BJP not succeeded in winning 71 of 80 seats from Uttar Pradesh (UP), the scenario may have been quite different. BJP’s strategic planning in UP focused primarily on preventing its key rivals Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) from performing well here. Ahead of elections, a BJP leader revealed that the party’s aim was to ensure that BSP was wiped out in UP. As per BJP’s planning, BSP failed to win even a single seat in UP.

BSP’s basic political strength in UP has rested on support of Dalit votes (and on Muslim votes to a lesser extent). Modi’s campaigning and his own caste background played a crucial role in turning the lower caste Hindu votes from BSP to BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. BJP’s decision to include several key lower caste Hindu leaders in its party and/or align with them just ahead of the polls was a part of its strategy to strike at the very foundation of BSP.

BJP’s success against regional parties extends to Bihar also. Realization of the role played by Dalit-vote in BJP’s victory has prompted Janata Dal (U) leader, Nitish Kumar to resign from Bihar’s chief ministerial position and select a Mahadalit, Jiten Ram Manjhi, to hold this office.

In states like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (MP), BJP prevented Congress from winning even a handful of seats. The Congress won only two seats in MP and none in other states. With regional parties practically non-existent in these states, the key battle here has always been between BJP and Congress.

The BJP may be credited for having secured a sweeping victory in India’s Hindi-belt, where either Congress or regional parties have performed miserably against it.

The scenario is different in the non-Hindi belt of India. In fact, statistics indicate that regional parties have improved their performance in these states. In West Bengal (WB), compared to 18 seats held by Trinamool Congress (TC) in the 15th Lok Sabha, the party has won 34 in the 16th Lok Sabha. Similarly, in Tamil Nadu (TN), All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) had only nine members in the 15th Lok Sabha and has won 37 seats in these elections. From Odisha, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has won 20 seats, while earlier it had only 14. True, National Conference (NC) has failed to win even a single seat in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) from where it was represented by three members. Its rival, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has won three seats from J&K. Less than a dozen members from regional parties represented Andhra Pradesh (AP) in the 15th Lok Sabha. The scenario has changed with regional parties having won 38 of 42 seats from AP.

The stunning fact that small parties, dominated largely by Muslims, have not been wiped out from several states, cannot be ignored. From Assam, All India Democratic Front (AIDF) has won three seats while in the 15th Lok Sabha it had only one member. The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) has retained its strength of two members from Kerala in Lok Sabha. Likewise, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) retains it single seat from AP.

True, BJP has to a certain degree extended its political reach beyond the Hindi belt by winning three seats in AP, three in J&K, two in WB, one in Odisha and one in TN. But against the dominance of regional parties in these states, BJP apparently carries little significance. The same point is also proved by percentage of votes secured by BJP. Statistics released by Indian Election Commission indicate that BJP has won 31% of votes. This also implies that 69% of votes have not gone in favour of BJP. Of these, 19.3% have been secured by Congress, 4.1% by BSP, 3.8% by TC, 3.4% by SP and so forth. What an irony, despite having secured a greater percentage of votes in UP than that secured by TC in WB, BSP has failed to win a single seat from its own home state. Undeniably, outside the Hindi belt, several regional parties have increased their strength in the 16th Lok Sabha. Had religious polarization, resting on saffron brigade’s Hindutva-agenda been entirely responsible for BJP’s victory, the party would have probably secured around 80% votes across the country. And this only further supports the point that Modi-wave has succeeded primarily only in the Hindi belt!      

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 June 2014 on page no. 11

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