One of the assumptions often made about politics in Delhi is that caste is not relevant as Delhi is predominantly urban, besides being the national capital.
This is not quite true. At least in Assembly elections, BJP and AAP, and earlier BJP and Congress, had different social coalitions.
According to Lokniti-CSDS surveys, this is broadly the caste and community-wise composition of the electorate in Delhi.
Unlike other states in the Hindi heartland, privileged castes collectively form a much larger chunk of the population in Delhi, at 41 percent, according to the survey.
This forms the core of the BJP’s support base.
On the other hand AAP, and earlier Congress, remained critically dependent on Dalits (17 percent) and Muslims (14 percent).
This was particularly evident in the 2015 Assembly elections.
A calculation based on data from the CSDS survey during the 2015 Assembly elections reveals a few interesting trends.
BJP Dominated by Privileged Castes
BJP’s overall vote share was 32.3 percent. Around 60 percent of BJP voters were privileged caste Hindus: 20.3 percent Brahmins, 13.3 percent Vaishyas and Jains, 11.1 percent Rajputs, 5 percent Hindu Punjabi Khatris and 9.8 percent Other Privileged Castes.
In addition to this, the BJP also secured the support of a majority of Jats.
AAP’s Dalit + Minority Formula
On the other hand, Dalits (21.4 percent), Muslims (19.9 percent) and Sikhs (3.1 percent) account for about 45 percent of AAP voters. AAP’s overall vote share was 54 percent.
In addition AAP got the support of non-Jat OBC communities like Yadav/Ahir, Gujjar, Saini, Kurmi, Vishwakarma etc. On the other hand, a majority of Jats rallied around BJP.
Together, non-Jat OBCs accounted for over 20 percent of AAP voters, about the same level as Dalits and Muslims.
But strangely, this doesn’t reflect in AAP’s leadership. In the outgoing Arvind Kejriwal cabinet, only two ministers were from communities that supported AAP over BJP - Imran Hussain (Muslim) and Rajendra Pal Gautam (Dalit). Another Dalit face is deputy speaker Rakhi Birla.
All the other ministers were from communities who leaned towards BJP: Kejriwal (Vaishya), Manish Sisodia (Rajput), Satyendra Jain (Vaishya), Gopal Rai (Bhumihar) and Kailash Gahlot (Jat). Speaker Ram Niwas Goel too is Vaishya as are two of AAP’s Rajya Sabha MPs ND Gupta and Sushil Gupta. Another RS MP Sanjay Singh is a Rajput.
How Voting Pattern Changed From 2008 to 2015
When it comes to caste and community based voting pattern, there are two dominant themes of Assembly elections in Delhi in the past decade:
- The relative stability of the BJP base - neither falling nor expanding much beyond its core Privileged Caste base.
- AAP taking over much of the erstwhile Congress base among Dalits, Muslims and non-Jat OBCs.
Let’s first take a look at how Privileged Caste votes have shifted between 2008 and 2015.
- What emerges is that BJP’s Brahmin and Vaishya base remained stable despite the entry of AAP. In fact, among Vaishyas, BJP’s support was highest in 2015 - at 60 percent - despite an AAP wave and the fact that Kejriwal himself is a Baniya. During the campaign, Kejriwal had termed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “upadravi gotra” remark against him as an “insult to the Agrawal community”.
- AAP did manage to eat into a chunk Rajput votes of the BJP, especially in 2013. But BJP regained ground a bit in 2015.
- It’s only among Punjabi Khatris and “other Upper Castes” that AAP has made a sizeable dent into the BJP base. In these categories, AAP did better than BJP in 2015.
Dalits and Minorities
- Among Muslims, the picture is quite straightforward - AAP took over much of the Congress’ erstwhile base. At 77 percent AAP support among Muslims in 2015 was higher than even that of the Congress in 2008.
- Among Dalit voters, AAP took over not just the Congress’ support but also that of the BSP, which had a sizeable presence in Delhi. As a result, the 68 percent Dalit support AAP got in 2015 was the highest for any party in Delhi in a long time.
- A similar picture can be seen among Sikhs. Since 1998, Sikh votes were more or less evenly divided between BJP and Congress. But in 2015, AAP got 57 percent of the Sikh votes, eating into both BJP and Congress’ vote share.
- Among OBCs the picture is more complex. AAP managed to clearly consolidate non-Jat OBC votes in 2015, much more than what Congress and BJP could in the past.
- But among Jats, there has been a stead rise in BJP’s popularity. Even in middle of a AAP wave in 2015, 59 percent Jats voted for BJP, much more than even 2008 when it got 51 percent votes in a two-party contest with the Congress.
One must add the caveat that there are significant class differences even within caste groups. For instance, in the 1990s and 2000s poorer Privileged Castes and OBCs tended to vote for Congress much more than better off Privileged Castes. The same can be said for AAP.
Also, AAP’s support among Dalits, Muslims and non-Jat OBCs also stems from the fact that these communities account for a major chunk of Delhi’s poor. Therefore much of the support for AAP and earlier Congress stemmed from pro-poor policies as well as the perception that in Delhi, BJP is a party of Brahmins, Baniyas and the rich.
As Delhi gears up for polling day, a lot would depend on BJP’s ability to expand beyond its core base of Brahmin and Baniya voters. Under Narendra Modi, BJP has succeeded in getting support form almost all communities except Muslims in Lok Sabha elections but failed to do it in Assembly polls.
In the ongoing polls, BJP has run a shrill, communal campaign in Delhi, targeting the protesters at Shaheen Bagh and even calling Kejriwal a “terrorist”. Clearly, the attempt is to make it into a Modi vs Shaheen Bagh battle and consolidate Hindu votes.
The CVoter tracker shows that this has helped BJP gain some ground but not enough to overtake AAP.
The BJP’s strategy will test AAP’s hold over Dalits and non-Jat OBCs as well as its ability to win floating votes based on Kejriwal’s performance.