It is true that the BJP of 2014 was not the BJP which was under the leadership of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
The choices of BJP’s presidential and vice-presidential candidates clearly indicate that the party is strategising for an expansion both geographically and socially. By getting Ram Nath Kovind elected as the 14th President of India, the BJP wants to send out a message to dalits that the party cares for them. And by nominating M. Venkaiah Naidu, it is seriously looking to expand its support base in south. With these masterstrokes, the BJP wants to dispel two notions attached with the party till recently — the party consists mostly of North Indians, and that it consists mostly of upper castes, more so brahmins.
With the recent electoral success, the BJP in Assam and other northeastern states, and the massive victory in Uttar Pradesh, the party has been able to dispel both the tags to a great extent. But with these two masterstrokes, the BJP wants to dispel this notion forever.
It is true that the BJP of 2014 was not the BJP which was under the leadership of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Even though the BJP managed to form the government in 1998 and 1999, the party’s support base was limited to the urban upper and middle class, and upper castes. The success of the BJP in 2014 was possible only because the party managed to expand its support base, dalits being an important vote bank for the party in 2014.
While in all the previous Lok Sabha elections since 1996, for which data is available from studies conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), roughly 10-12 per cent of dalits had voted for the BJP nationally. But studies indicate that during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 24 per cent of dalits voted for the BJP. More important to note is the fact that nationally dalits voted for the BJP in the largest proportion, with only 19 per cent voting for the Congress.
The dalit support for the BJP has been important for the party’s electoral success during Assembly elections in most of the states which went to polls after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In Assam, 56 per cent, Haryana 20 per cent, Jharkhand 27 per cent, Maharashtra 20 per cent, Goa 25 per cent and in Uttarakhand 28 per cent of dalits voted for the BJP. Even in Uttar Pradesh, 26 per cent of dalits voted for the party. In Bihar and Delhi, where the BJP lost the Assembly elections, 28 per cent and 19 per cent of dalits voted for the BJP respectively. The only state where the BJP failed to attract the dalit vote was in Punjab, understandably as the party was only a junior partner to the Akali Dal in the state.
But various incidents of atrocities against dalits, either in the name of cow protection or other issues, may have worried the BJP to some extent. There have been several incidents of dalit atrocities in various parts of the country — including in Una, Gujarat; Koppa, Karnataka; Andhra Pradesh and recent riots in Saharanpur — which may turn dalits against the BJP.
Various dalit protests and mobilisation across the country are enough to indicate the unhappiness of the community with the BJP. There is fear that if dalits turn against the BJP, who are in large numbers in different states, it may damage the electoral prospects of the party during the forthcoming elections. By getting a dalit elected as the President, more so by making big noise about getting a dalit elected to the top post, the BJP is certainly trying to turn the tide again in its favour amongst dalits.
BJP’s vice-presidential candidate Mr Naidu will certainly get elected as the next vice-president of India. This will not only help the BJP to manage the affairs of the Rajya Sabha, but may help the party in its expansion in southern states. The BJP has already established a strong foothold in Karnataka, but would like to have its presence in other southern states, too. Even though the BJP managed to win 283 seats on its own in 2014, of the 129 Lok Sabha seats from five southern states, it managed to win only 21 and polled only 15 per cent votes. Of these, the largest share is from Karnataka, where the party won 17 seats and polled 43 per cent votes. After the recent political upheaval in Tamil Nadu, which accounts for 39 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP must be eyeing a greater foothold in the state. It is important to note that the BJP managed to open its account in Tamil Nadu, won the Kanyakumari Lok Sabha seat and polled 5.4 per cent votes in the state. In Kerala, it has managed to attract some support, but mostly
amongst the urban voters. It polled 10.3 per cent votes but the party would like to expand its support base in the state further.
Similarly in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the BJP has played the role of the junior partner having an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), won two and one seat and polled 7.1 per cent and 10.3 per cent votes respectively, but the party wishes to have a much larger presence. Having a vice-president from Andhra Pradesh will certainly boost the party’s prospects in its effort to expand its support base.
Clearly, the BJP has tried to use this occasion of electing the new President and vice-president to brighten its electoral prospects for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.