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Will caste arithmetic overpower Hindu dominance?

The writer is Editor-in-Chief, Financial Chronicle; Visiting Fellow ORF and eminent author. He loves the space where politics and economics converge.
Published : Aug 22, 2018, 1:48 am IST
Updated : Aug 22, 2018, 1:48 am IST

Mr Modi has created a Hindu votebank for the first time in our 72-year history, an aggressive votebank which holds the whiphand.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi  (Photo: PTI via AP)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: PTI via AP)

Talk of the law of diminishing returns kicking in abounds as the political mercury begins to soar in the lead-up to 2019. Both the Prime Minister and the BJP president seem unperturbed as they reckon a rising tide will lift all boats once again and a 2014 redux will be visible. Is it bluster or merely optimism misplaced? Or is there a plan which will help deliver these numbers? A boilerplate which can’t go wrong? An ironclad calculus, which cannot go awry predicated on majoritarianism and anti-minorityism, plugging and playing into the overarching Hindu sentiment pervading in the country?

At a recent address to party MPs in New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the government’s decision to give constitutional status to the backward communities and restore stringent provisions in a law aimed at protecting dalits, clearly showing that the party was keen to reap electoral dividends from the twin moves. Mr Modi asked his MPs to go forth and highlight samajik samrashta (social harmony) rallies in their constituencies. Obviously concerned with the dalit uprisings across India and the anticipated gravitation to Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD/Congress in Bihar and BMW (Behenji Mayawati) and Akilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, Mr Modi wants to circumvent plans of anew block of voters forming. The growing importance of the Dalit-Yadav-Muslim (DYM) votebank in Bihar and UP and even parts of Maharashtra concerns him for the bulk of India’s Lok Sabha comes from these three states — 80 plus 40 plus 48 plus another 42 in West Bengal. A total of 210 seats, and if you throw in Tamil Nadu, then the total for the big five is 249 out of the effective strength of 544 in the Lok Sabha. This is where the battle will be won or lost and Mr Modi knows it.

A consolidation of the Hindu vote cutting across caste faultlines has helped Mr Modi win twice in recent memory. First, when he bagged 73 out of 80 seats (including two Apna Dal victories) in the 2014 general hustings followed by a virtual rout of the Opposition in the 2017 UP state elections. It was a triumph for the Hindu Hriday Samrat as the Hindu vote aggregated behind him. Subliminal messaging against appeasement and constant pandering of Muslims has led to the spectre of anti-minorityism making Hindus vote en bloc twice over in UP. Pertinently, this phenomenon goes beyond the Ram temple and Ayodhya, it is about Hindu asmita or chauvinism which was compromised by pandering to minorities. It has struck a chord with Hindus across all strata and states. Mr Modi and Amit Shah know that the rise of majoritarianism in India is peaking and is still to reach a crescendo. Increasingly, majoritarianism is equal to faux nationalism. This translates into majoritarianism nationalism as a derivative of ethno centrisim. While India, unlike its neighbours in South Asia, has been accommodative of religious and linguistic minorities all these years, the trendline is changing dramatically. The almost imperceptible shift in India of the middle ground of public opinion in favour of Hindu nationalism rather than Hindutva is clear as daylight.

The citizenship test in Assam has come at a convenient time for this underlying credo to get supplanted further in the hearts and minds of Hindu Indians. Now let us look at the 2019 calculus and discuss it threadbare. If Mr Modi has to be thwarted at the gates by the Republic of Kichdi, the axis of Dalit-Yadav-Muslim has to work for the fragmented Opposition. In Bihar for instance, there are 16.9 per cent Muslims, 14.4 per cent Yadavs and 16 per cent dalits; while in UP Yadavs are eight per cent, Muslims 19.26 per cent, dalit Jatavs are nine per cent and non-Jatavs 20 per cent. One is assuming that this conglomeration will more or less vote as a block for Mr Modi to be stopped, as it happened in Kairana or Gorakhpur in UP and Araria and Jehanabad in Bihar. The supposition being that the SP-BSP-Congress-RLD combine can offer a joint fight with winnability of candidates determining their future. Between Bihar and UP, 120 of the Lok Sabha seats will be decided. Another state with 48 seats — Maharashtra — which has seen widespread dalit anger, has SCs at 11.8 per cent, while STs are 8.9 per cent and Muslims another 11.5 per cent.

It is obvious that Mr Modi’s personal persona and charisma won the BJP the landslide that it did in 2014. His oratorial skills and connect with the hoi polloi ensured that the Hindus voted en masse literally for the BJP — 71 out of 80 in UP, 22 out of 40 in Bihar, 17 out of 28 in Karnataka, 23 out of 48 in Maharashtra, 7 out of 7 in Delhi, 26 out of 26 in Gujarat, 25 out of 25 in Rajasthan, 12 out of 14 in Jharkhand, 27 out of 29 in MP, 10 out of 11 in Chhattisgarh and five out of five in Uttarakhand. Let us also be mindful of the fact that in this tidal wave, he had a coalition in Bihar, Punjab and AP. In a 543-member Lok Sabha, only 23 Muslim candidates won — four from Trinamul Congress, two CPI(M), three PDP and two Congress.

Now if one goes deeper into this concentric circle and examines the UP caste matrix granularly, then Jatavs who are spread across UP are the largest and most influential dalit sub-caste connected strongly to the BSP, where Mayawati herself is a Jatav. Pasi are the second largest dalit sub-caste after Jatavs and are concentrated in central and eastern UP, with both SP and BJP having nurtured these groups to counter the BSP’s sway on Jatavs. Yadavs are the largest backward caste in UP, mostly concentrated in the Agra-Kanpur belt and in eastern UP. Traditional supporters of the SP, most Yadav majority seats are contested by the Mulayam Singh family. Kurmis are the second largest backward caste of the state; the BJP took the lead last time by fielding a large number of Kurmi candidates and also forging an alliance with the Apna Dal in eastern UP. Lodh is the third largest backward caste, followed by Kushwaha and Maurya backward castes. The Modi algo, which broke the back of this social engineering model twice over in UP, is driven by Hindu consolidation in his favour. Recent results show that this Hindu consolidation may be on the wane and social engineering may be back. However, this theorem needs to be tested in a general election. For it requires the BSP, SP, Congress and RLD to leave their football field-sized egos outside the room where seat-sharing and candidate selection confabulations are taking place. The new construct is the only way to consolidate anti-Modi votes in UP and Bihar, but it will take careful calibration and selection. Repeating the sagacity of Kairana perhaps being the way forward.

Pradeep Chhibber and Rahul Verma from the Travers Department of Political Science, UCLA, Berkeley and Lokniti-CSDS tried to decode the formula — why did the voters gravitate to the BJP? There are two inter-related reasons; first obviously being Mr Modi and the second was that the BJP broke open deep set social barriers as it enlarged its vote base from urban dwellers, upper castes, middle class and the educated. There was an unparalleled consolidation of upper castes and middle class voters behind Mr Modi as did ST and the poor and even adivasis and dalits. Pointing out to my axiom of Hindu consolidation. It was an unprecedented alliance of social groups — upper castes, OBCs and the tribals that propelled Mr Modi to victory.

However, it is the dalit vote which added value to the BJP sheen. Normally only one out of 10 dalits would vote for the BJP, in 2014 this changed to one in four and for the NDA it translated into one out of three. Dalits are angry with Mr Modi and the BJP, no one really knows how they will vote in 2019. That is why the PM exhorted his party MPs about SC/ST laws recently.

Mr Modi’s alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP in Bihar, Ramdas Athawale’s RPI in Maharashtra and induction of Udit Raj in Delhi proved to be gamechangers. This was mirrored in the decline of BSP’s vote to the BJP in UP, Haryana, Delhi, MP and Maharashtra.

So will the caste arithmetic overpower the Hindu dominance and consolidation? Or will the Dalit-Yadav-Muslim axis form an alternative to the Hindu narrative. It worked well for the BJP to not field a single Muslim candidate in the UP Assembly elections, but the byelections have seen the return of the caste and M factors. Mr Modi’s Hindu tsunami has bested the Ram temple wave of the past highlighting that Hindutva and Hindu nationalism or chauvinism are two distinct ideologies. Whether this will converge by the time the polls come is another matter. But the high-volume Assam NRC pitch is only one such subterranean messaging in this high-stakes game. It is not Ayodhya which will determine the next election for majoritarian forces, but Assam and NRC which may have actually jumpstarted that sentiment. By bringing Hindu forces under his awning, Mr Modi has created a Hindu votebank for the first time in our 72-year history, an aggressive votebank which holds the whiphand. Will this Hindu sentiment translate into votes in the South beyond Karnataka, and does it have the necessary power carve a larger swathe bigger than the Hindu-Hindi heartland? Four times now we have seen that this imagery has an appeal — twice in UP, once in Assam and once in the Jammu division of J&K. The edifice of the new construct has been laid, its roots deepening daily. The Hindu is the new centrifuge in Hindustan, but the bigger question is whether this stratagem will fail Mr Modi in the wake of a Dalit-Yadav-Muslim consolidation.

Tags: mulayam singh, prime minister narendra modi, lalu prasad yadav, ram temple