How PM Modi ‘Trumped Caste’ Again In the Hindi Heartland

In 2019, despite caste lines clearly drawn in the Hindi heartland, Modi’s persona has trumped caste again.

6 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

Another Modi wave has engulfed the nation. The BJP-led NDA has returned to power with an even bigger majority; the BJP has crossed the 300 mark. People seem to have overwhelmingly voted for Narendra Modi rather than their parliamentary candidates. The Hindi heartland, which played a key role in 2014, remains the key region of BJP and its alliance partners as was seen on 23 May. These 8 states account for more than half of the seats which have been won by the NDA.


The Modi Tsunami

The BJP-led NDA managed to sweep the Hindi heartland (UP, Bihar, MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Delhi. Voters, cutting across caste lines, voted for the party.

Multiple Opposition parties, through caste-based alliances, attempted to pin down the BJP. The Mahagathbandhan (MGB) was formed in UP, Bihar and Jharkhand. But they have all been washed away by the Modi tsunami as the BJP-led NDA maintained its tally.

The Modi Factor

The prime ministerial candidate was the main consideration of 17 percent voters on an all-India basis. However, it was much higher in the Hindi heartland states, except for Chhattisgarh. In Uttarakhand, the Modi factor was 19 percent (+2 percent). In Bihar, it was almost double the national average at 35 percent. This helped BJP/NDA sweep most of the states and maintain its tally, with marginal losses (-7) despite a formidable MGB in UP, Bihar and Jharkhand, and the gains made by Congress in Rajasthan, MP and CG late last year. Except in UP, the party has maintained or exceeded its performance in 2019. Losses in UP (-9) were compensated by gains in Bihar (+8).

How PM Modi ‘Trumped Caste’ Again In the Hindi Heartland
How PM Modi ‘Trumped Caste’ Again In the Hindi Heartland
Source: NES 2014, EC Website

UP Rejects ‘Bua-Babua Jodi’

In UP, fierce opponents, the SP and the BSP, came together to curb the BJP juggernaut. Along with Ajit Singh’s RLD, the MGB had 43 percent vote share against NDA’s 43.6 percent. These numbers show how tight the contest was. BJP’s support base of upper-caste and non-Yadav OBCs accounted for 49 percent of the population, while MGB’s support base, consisting of Muslims, Yadavs, Dalits and Jats, formed 51 percent of the population. The divisions between upper-castes and backward castes, Yadavs and Non-Yadav OBCs, Jats and Non-Jatavs, were clearly defined in the state.

MGB was trying to wean away the 27 percent Yadavs and 45 percent non-Jatavs who voted for the NDA in 2014. The formidable alliance even forced the BJP to do exclusionary politics, ignoring Yadavs and Dalits, from their calculations, while the 2014 campaign was more inclusive, taking everybody along. NDA had won 73 out of 80 seats in 2014.

Rahul Gandhi conceded defeat in Amethi, to Smriti Irani. The Priyanka factor also seems to have flopped. The NDA has improved its vote share from 43.6 percent to 49.6 percent (excluding the Apna Dal number which is not available), while the MGB partners failed to seamlessly transfer votes to each other (39 percent vs 43 percent).

‘Jai-Viru Jodi’ Trumps Lalu’s ‘Mahamilavat’ in Undivided Bihar

In Bihar, Tejaswi Yadav under pressure from Lalu, agreed to form a broad coalition of social forces to defeat the BJP. The alliance included 7 parties: RJD, Congress, Kushwaha’s RLSP, Manjhi’s HAM, Saini’s VIP, CPIML and Sharad Yadav’s party.

The RJD sacrificed 10 seats for the alliance, contesting the lowest number of seats in its electoral history. Their sole objective was to defeat the NDA which enjoyed a big 15 percent lead over the UPA. Yadav thought that along with his Muslim-Yadav combination, Mahadalits (10 percent), Kushwahas (8 percent) and Mallahs (4 percent), will pose a challenge.

The contest was tight as the NDA’s support base included upper-caste, Kurmis, Most Backward Classes and Dalits, who accounted for 51 percent of the population. MGB’s support base forms 49 percent of the population.

All the new allies, RLSP, HAM, VIP, who were the weak links, have lost their seats. Paswan’s Dalit votes, plus Nitish Kumar’s popularity among MBCs and Mahadalits, seem to have helped the NDA. Also, the Modi factor was the highest here (35 percent vs 17 percent). The NDA swept Bihar, barring 1 seat which was won by the Congress, in Kishanganj, which is minority-dominated. Lalu’s party failed to win even a single seat.

In Jharkhand, Opposition parties led by Shibu Soren’s JMM, taking their cue from UP and Bihar, also formed an MGB of sorts. It brought on board the Congress, RJD and ex CM Babulal Marandi’s JVM. A formidable alliance on paper, with a vote share of 36.9 perceny versus NDA’s 40.7 percent. This MGB tried to seek the support of SC-ST, Muslims, Christians and other minorities, which account for 60 percent of the population.

The BJP has managed to hold onto its 2014 tally in Jharkhand despite brewing anti-incumbency against the Raghubar Das government.

The tribals seem to have stayed with the BJP, backed by RSS work in their areas in the field of health and education. The NDA has improved its vote share by 15 percent.


Congress’ Momentum Flags in MP-CG-Rajasthan

In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress ended the 15-year-old rule of Shivraj Singh Chouhan riding on anti-incumbency and manifesto points like farm loan waivers and unemployment allowance. In 2018, Congress managed to lure back its SC-ST vote. It also got a boost from upper-caste voters who were angry with the Amendment to the SC-ST Atrocities Act. Upper-caste and OBCs, the traditional vote bank of BJP, account for 55 percent of the population, while the SC-ST and Muslims form 45 percent of the population. In 2019, the BJP, through 10 percent reservation for EWS, has managed to pacify the upper-castes. The BJP swept the state; only Kamal Nath’s son was able to retain his traditional seat of Chindwara.

In Chhattisgarh, the Congress cleverly crafted a strategy to wean away OBCs from the BJP’s fold in the 2018 state elections.

It made Bupesh Bhagel, a Kurmi, the face of the election campaign, and gave Tamrashwaj, a Sahu, a prominent role in the campaign. Kurmis and Sahus, the two dominant communities among OBCs, account for around 36 percent of the state’s population. Traditionally it enjoyed the support of SC-ST, Muslims and minorities, accounting for roughly half of the population. With a dent in the BJP support base of OBCs, the Congress party swept the state polls. Congress was leading 10-1 as per Vidhan Sabha results.

Here too, the BJP pulled back its traditional OBC vote bank, and won 9 seats.

In Rajasthan, Infighting & Over-Confidence Ruined Congress’ Prospects

In Rajasthan, Jats, Gujjars and Rajputs have dominated the political scene for generations, and intense rivalry was seen among them. They together account for 30 percent of the population. Rajputs have traditionally backed the BJP. Jats, on the other hand, moved away from the Congress to the BJP after the party made Ashok Gehlot (a Mali) the CM in 1998 and 2008. The BJP inducted Beniwal, a prominent Jat leader, which provided a fillip to its prospects. BJP swept all the 25 seats like it did in 2014.

In all these states, the Congress was bereft of issues to target the BJP, as it used all its ammunition in the state elections.

The party also faced some anger as it couldn’t fulfill all its promises due to just three months time between installation of the government and MCC implementation. Infighting in Rajasthan and general over-confidence marred its prospects.

Kejriwal’s ‘Bola Tha Na’ (Told You So) Moment

In Delhi, Gujjars, Muslims and Dalits, accounting for roughly one-third of the population, have been traditional supporters of the Congress, and have now moved to the AAP. AAP also enjoys the support of the business community (8 percent). The BJP has traditionally received the support of Punjabi Khatris, Jats, Sikhs and Brahmins, accounting for 35 percent-36 percent of the population. The BJP won all seven seats. The AAP and the Congress couldn’t form an alliance, but even if they would have, BJP would have still won.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
(Photo: IANS/PIB)

What's Happening In Uttarakhand?

In Uttarakhand, the Brahmins dominate the political scene, accounting for 20 percent of the population, and have traditionally backed the BJP. The party won all the 5 seats.

In 2019, despite caste lines clearly being drawn in the Hindi heartland, Modi’s persona has trumped caste again. The BJP enjoyed a humongous lead over the Opposition in all states (except UP), and the Congress couldn’t force a big swing of 10-15 percent. In UP, it not only maintained its vote share, but built onto its Non-Jatav support (57 percent vs 45 percent), and consolidated the Non-Yadav OBC voters (72 percent vs 60 percent).

(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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