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Mandal and kamandal have powered BJP’s stellar rise

LiveMint logoLiveMint 12-03-2017 Roshan Kishore

With a three-fourth majority in the Uttar Pradesh assembly, the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has cemented its position as the dominating force in the country’s politics. Here are three charts which can help us understand how this has happened.

BJP is the new national pole of Indian politics

The BJP rose to prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s on the back of the movement to build a Ram mandir (temple) in UP’s Ayodhya, witnessing the first big spike in its share of elected legislators in the country. The current phase marks the second big surge for the party, a Mint analysis of party-wise share of MLAs elected in each state for each decade since the 1960s (based on numbers provided by the Trivedi Centre for Political Data (TCPD) at Ashoka University) shows. In Narendra Modi, BJP seems to have discovered the biggest engine of growth since the early 1990s.

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The aggregate share of the Congress party was above the half-way mark in the 1960s but that is now history as the party today accounts for just one in five MLAs. The BJP’s share is larger, accounting for one in every four MLAs. Other parties taken together (clubbing the regional outfits and communist parties) have maintained a steady share with nearly half the aggregate share of MLAs, as the chart above shows.

Modi is making existing social equations irrelevant

What makes BJP’s national stature a unique feat is the fact that the party has achieved it in a very different manner compared to the Congress. The traditional Congress support base was built on a coalition of upper caste Hindus, dalits and Muslims. The BJP’s recent successes shows that it does not need all of them.

UP is a classic example. Samajwadi Party’s (SP) success was rooted in a coalition around solid support from Yadavs and Muslims, which together account for around 30% of the state’s electorate. Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) success was rooted in a solid dalit (predominantly Jatav; a dalit sub-caste) vote bank, which attracted other social groups towards it. BSP’s 2007 victory was a result of upper caste Hindus voting significantly for the party.

Preliminary analysis from the CSDS Lokniti post-poll survey shows that Jatavs, Yadavs and Muslims – the three main constituents of anti-BJP and anti-Congress politics in UP – have voted against the BJP overwhelmingly in these elections as well . Yet, the BJP has secured a massive victory. The consolidation of the core voters of parties such as the SP and the BSP seem to have polarised the electorate, with the rest of the voters rallying behind the BJP.

This seems to fit the plan of BJP poll strategists who seem to have relied on non-Jatav support among Dalits and non-Yadav support among OBCs to wrest control of the state. A source close to Sunil Bansal, state-level General Secretary of the BJP had the following to say before the elections, “As much as 83% of the upper castes, 17% Yadavs, 73% non-Yadav OBCs, 25% Jatavs and 50% non-Jatavs are voting for us” . The consolidation of loyal vote banks seems to have backfired for the BJP’s opponents.

The story is starker in case of Muslims. A previous Plainfacts column had shown how the BJP has not had a single Muslim MLA in UP since 2002 . In these elections, the BJP did not give ticket to even a single Muslim candidate in UP. BJP does not have a Muslim Lok Sabha MP today.

The message is clear: BJP can recreate its own rainbow coalitions, and can win elections even without the constituents of erstwhile successful anti-BJP social coalitions. Unlike in the early 90s when the force of the Kamandal (literally, a water-pot used by Hindu ascetics but in politics, a metaphor for Hindutva politics) was countered by the rise of Mandal (or parties demanding reservations for OBCs), today the BJP is able to manage both the forces. Modi’s credibility among voters (especially non-Muslim ones) seems to lend the glue that holds the BJP rainbow coalition together.

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Victory has not yet brought hubris to the BJP camp

What has also contributed to the BJP’s victories is its ability to make strategic alliances on the ground to consolidate the non-Yadav OBC base. The BJP had an alliance with two parties in the UP elections: the Apna Dal (Soneylal) and the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party. These are parties of OBC leaders with considerable presence in their areas. Such alliances are the crucial building blocks of BJP’s evolving social engineering strategy in North India which has allowed it to achieve success without having to compromise on its core Hindutva ideology.

The BJP contested 384 out of 403 seats, while the allies contested 19 seats. It is worth noting that in most of the seats the BJP gave up for its allies, its vote share was not even in double digits in the previous assembly elections. BJP and its allies are the only parties whose seat share is more than their vote share. This means that they have mastered the art of consolidating their support to ensure electoral victories.

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Given the BJP’s stellar performance in 2014 elections in the state, there must have been a temptation to accommodate the maximum number of party leaders as candidates. However the party has resisted such temptations to prevent antagonizing its allies. In contrast, consider the example of the Left alliance in Kerala. In the 2014 elections, the CPM drove the Revolutionary Socialist Party out of its alliance over seat-sharing in Kerala. M.A. Baby, a CPM politbureau member lost the seat to the RSP candidate from Kollam Lok Sabha seat.

The analysis suggests three key takeaways. One, in Narendra Modi the BJP has finally found the pan-India narrative which resonates across the length and breadth of India. An earlier Plainfacts Column had highlighted how Modi’s popularity has driven the BJP’s graph after 2014. Two, the BJP’s organisational machine is milking this advantage to the hilt by ensuring that they get everybody but their main opponents to their side. Three, Modi’s opponents need to realise that their old strategy against BJP may have passed their sell-by date.

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