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Mainstream, VOL LII No 26, June 21, 2014

Modi-wave and Dalit-Card’s Impact in Hindi Belt!

Saturday 21 June 2014, by Nilofar Suhrawardy

Not too long ago, most political analysts assumed that the era of single-party govern-ment was now history. But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s stunning victory has conveyed a strong message. Strategic campaigning, resting on the political image of one man, can still help a party like the BJP to assume power without having to fall back on the support of other parties. Yes, without the hype raised about Modi-wave, the results may have been different. Similarly, had Narendra Modi not laid emphasis on “development”, his political message may not have convinced the electorate. Equally significant is the fact that in this campaign, Modi tried his best to put forward his “secular” face before the voters. Though ahead of the results some “news” was spread about the prospects of Indian Muslims feeling “scared” of a Modi-led government, it has not taken long for such speculations to be defeated. Most Muslims are of the opinion that Modi’s political success in the coming days strongly depends on his retaining his “secular” mask. Just as during his campaigning, Modi was compelled to turn his back towards comm-unalism and promote his own secular image, now that he has stepped into power, he will have to give greater importance to displaying a secular face.

The preceding point also indicates that Modi went overboard in leaving nothing to chance where there prevailed the risk of his and his party losing the mandate. But this is just one aspect of the BJP’s electoral strategy. Even if Modi had remained quiet about his “secular” intentions, the anti-incumbency factor may have still have prevented the Congress from returning to power. Yes, now is also the time to reflect on whether the Modi-wave has really turned the tide in the BJP’s favour across the country? Or is there another side to it? Had the BJP not succeeded in winning 73 of 80 seats from Uttar Pradesh (UP), the scenario may have been quite different. The BJP’s strategic planning in UP had focused primarily on preventing its key rivals, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP), from performing well there. Ahead of the elections, a BJP leader revealed that the party’s aim was to ensure that the BSP was wiped out in UP. As per the BJP’s planning, the BSP has failed to win even a single seat in UP.

The BSP’s basic political strength in UP has rested on support of Dalit (lower Hindu caste) votes. Modi’s campaigning and his own caste background played a crucial role in turning the lower caste Hindu votes from the BSP to BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. The 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 the BSP. The BJP’s success against regional parties extends to Bihar also. Realisation of the role played by the Dalit-vote in the BJP’s victory has probably prompted the 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), the BJP prevented the Congress from winning even a handful of seats. The Congress won only two seats in MP and none in the other States. With regional parties practically non-existent in these States, the key battle here has always been between the BJP and Congress. The BJP may be credited for having secured a sweeping victory in India’s Hindi-belt, where either the 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 several States. In West Bengal (WB), compared to 18 seats held by the Trinamul Congress (TMC) in the 15th Lok Sabha, the party has won 34 in the 16th Lok Sabha. Similarly, in Tamil Nadu (TN), the 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 14. True, the National Conference (NC) has failed to win a single seat in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) from where it was represented by three members. Its rival, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), has won three seats from J&K. Less than a dozen members from the regional parties represented Andhra Pradesh (AP) in the 15th Lok Sabha. The scenario has changed with regional parties having won 38 of the 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, the 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 the Lok Sabha. Likewise, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) retains it single seat from AP.

True, the 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, the BJP carries little significance. The same point is also proved by the percentage of votes secured by the BJP. Statistics released by the Election Commission indicate that the BJP has won 31 per cent of votes. This also implies that 69 per cent of votes have not gone in favour of the BJP. Of these, 19.3 per cent have been secured by the Congress, 4.1 per cent by the BSP, 3.8 per cent by the TMC, 3.4 per cent by the SP and so forth. What an irony, despite having secured a greater percentage of votes in UP than that secured by the TMC in WB, the BSP has failed to win a single seat from its own home State. Neverthe-less, this only further supports the point that the Modi-wave has swept primarily across the Hindi belt. Outside the Hindi belt, several regional parties have increased their strength in the 16th Lok Sabha. Besides, had religious polarisation, resting on the saffron brigade’s Hindutva-agenda been responsible for BJP’s victory, the party would have probably secured more than 80 per cent votes across the country. Strategic use of the Dalit-card has apparently played a great role in turning the political tide in Modi and his party’s favour.