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Role of polarization in BJP’s big victory

LiveMint logoLiveMint 16-05-2014 Sanjay Kumar

The remarkable victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 16th general election is seen as an expression of the voters’ desire to see renewed economic development. Some also consider the verdict an aspirational vote. It is being argued that the people of India stood above considerations of caste and religion and voted for the BJP in large numbers. People have high aspirations—more so the young, and they see their hopes being fulfilled if the BJP comes to power and Narendra Modi becomes Prime Minister, so goes the argument.

But those who saw the electoral verdict as merely a vote for change and development or as an aspirational vote have misread it somewhat. Caste and religious considerations did play an important role in determining the choice of voters. These elections witnessed the strongest-ever polarization of upper castes in favour of the BJP and of Muslims in favour of the Congress. Nearly 60% of upper caste voters backed the BJP while 43% of Muslim voters favoured the Congress. The polarization of voters on caste and religious lines is much sharper in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The BJP’s gains in Uttar Pradesh resulted from a combination of people’s anger against mis-governance by the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) in the state on the one hand and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre on the other, and a very sharp polarization of voters on caste lines. The poor governance record of the state government and dissatisfaction with the central government left the voters of Uttar Pradesh with very little choice. They could have either voted for the BJP or the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to demonstrate their anger.

True, a sizeable number of voters (nearly 20%) voted out of a desire for economic development and in anticipation of improvement in infrastructure like roads and schools, drinking water and electricity supplies, but the kind of upper caste polarization these elections witnessed had rarely been seen in previous polls. From among Brahmin, Rajput, Vaishya and other upper castes, more than 75% voted for the BJP.

The elections also witnessed a sharp polarization of even the Jats in favour of the BJP. Despite the Rashtriya Lok Dal’s (RLD’s) tie-up with the Congress, 75% of Jat voters backed the BJP-Apna Dal alliance. This is what explains the poor performance of the RLD and defeat of Jat leader Ajit Singh. Uttar Pradesh also witnessed reverse polarization as a large number of Muslim voters backed the SP, which suffered because of a shift of other sections of voters—even the Yadavs—away from it. Though a large number of Jatavas voted for the BSP, among other Dalits there was a huge shift in favour of the BJP.

The situation was hardly different in Bihar. Nearly 28% of voters in the state voted for a change of the central government. A large section of them voted on the issue of lack of development in Bihar and some in anticipation of better facilities like roads or better supply of electricity or drinking water.

At the same time, it is also true that by forming an alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), the caste card which BJP played for consolidation of the Dalits, worked in its favour. From among the Paswans, the caste to which Ram Vilas Paswan himself belongs, more than 75% of voters voted for the BJP-LJP alliance, though we did not see a similar kind of polarization among other Dalit castes. The upper castes also witnessed a very strong polarization in favour of the BJP, with more than 80% of Brahmin, Rajput, Bhumihar or Kayastha voters favoring the BJP-LJP alliance. Bihar also witnessed very sharp reverse polarization as a little more than nearly two-thirds of Yadavs and Muslim voters voted for the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress alliance.

Yes, a large number of young voters not only in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar but elsewhere indeed voted out of aspirations and expectations, but at the same time there is evidence to suggest a huge caste polarization, mainly among the upper castes, resulted in the BJP’s remarkable victory in these elections.

The author is a professor and director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies

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