Welfare schemes, not Hindutva, led to saffron surge

The Narendra Modi-led government put development first in the last five years. As a result, the BJP’s support base has widened 

Published: 24th May 2019 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th May 2019 07:53 PM   |  A+A-

Modi's schemes like the Swacch Bharat Mission helped the BJP retain a second term in power. (File Photo | PTI)

Way back in 1995, not many people noticed one of the biggest leaps in Indian politics. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), in just four-and-a-half months between June and October 1995, doubled its vote share from 10 to 20 per cent. Guess how it happened? The Mayawati government used its tenure to build toilets in all government and municipal schools. This created a perception that she cared for the poorest of the poor in Uttar Pradesh.

Cut to 2019. This is precisely what the Narendra Modi government has done. However this time for Mayawati, it was about consolidating her Dalit base. For the BJP, it was about increasing its penetration into segments of Hindu society that had shown little or moderate support before. 

A very strange phenomenon can actually be analysed to understand the consolidation of  BJP voters. There is a striking correlation between the BJP’s performance in Odisha and Bengal and the chronological setting of demonetisation.

In the 2016 Assembly polls of West Bengal, which occurred two years after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s vote share actually plummeted to 10 per cent. The party won only three Assembly seats. However, after demonetisation, the party stood second in several bypolls and gram panchayat polls as well. Today, it has managed to notch up double-digit figures in the state.

Even in Odisha, in all the elections held after demonetisation, the BJP came second to the BJD. Today, the saffron party has fortified its position by emerging as the runner up to the BJD in the Lok Sabha as well as the Assembly polls.

VotersMood Research’s interactions with people found that demonetisation yielded more dividends than merely bringing more traders into the formal economy. It actually increased the engagement of the rural population with the formal banking system. Direct Beneficiary Transfers for gas connections and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana made them feel that they were part of the formal economy. 

The NDA’s scheme for building toilets in rural areas worked on a scale larger than what Mayawati achieved in the state of Uttar Pradesh earlier. The BJP established social engagement with the under privileged classes. A combination of such social and economic engagement seems to have cemented the section to the BJP in a much better manner than what the firebrand Hindutva rhetoric could ever achieve.

The BJP seems sympathetic to aggressive Hindu posturing by gau rakshaks and candidates like Sadhvi Pragya. But one now believes that such sentiments merely serve a continuing discourse among its constituents rather than serving as a principle to keep them glued together.

The increased reach of government schemes has created a favourable impression among voters about the state—and the party. This is the new model of democratic setup the BJP is capitalising on. This is much like the engagement the Left had with the rural population in Bengal right after its land reforms in the early 1980s. Therefore, it’s not just a matter of pro-incumbency, it’s about consolidation of the  support base of the BJP as well as the changed electoral participation that have resulted in this mandate.

Electoral participation in this Lok Sabha poll stood at 67 per cent—the highest in India. One has also observed that Tier 2 cities and neo-urban areas showed higher voting percentages than urban areas. This means that the aspirational class was trying to make its presence felt. And with greater support from the lesser privileged classes, Hindutva only served as a matter of discourse and not as a common phenomenon. 

That exactly seems to be the formula that has worked for the BJP. According to several VMR surveys taken across the nation, the BJP has emerged as the first choice for Scheduled Castes, with a significant 63 per cent indicating that they prefer the saffron party. Even in seats where MBCs are prominent, 75 per cent of the people seem to support the BJP—these kinds of numbers have only been seen among upper castes. This shows that the support spectrum of the BJP has changed. At the face of it, it looks like it has managed to consolidate a Hindu vote bank. But essentially it is due to the support garnered by a welfare-state driven model which took in the aspirational and underprivileged classes of India. 

Jai Mrug

Psephologist and Director of VMR
(Voters Mood Research)

Email: jai.mrug@gmail.com

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