Caste, class and the rise of the BJP in India3 min read . Updated: 16 Sep 2017, 11:09 AM IST
Poor voters from the upper castes may prefer policies that preserve their higher social status over policies which may benefit a wider swathe of society
The rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the early 1990s is often ascribed to its campaign for constructing a temple on a disputed site in Ayodhya. However, the party also benefited from insecurity among poor upper-caste voters as they grappled with the rising power of the lower castes. Political scientist Pavithra Suryanarayan of Johns Hopkins University, in a recent research paper, maps the BJP’s performance in state elections between 1986 and 1995 against the caste-wise population pattern derived from the 1931 census. She shows that both poor and wealthy people from upper-caste backgrounds increasingly voted for BJP in elections held after 1990, the year when major affirmative-action policies were announced. She concludes that poor people can sometimes vote for right-wing parties despite the fact that such parties are often ambivalent towards pro-poor policies. She argues that such choices may be rational as they may help in defending upper-caste dominance in educational institutions and jobs, providing tangible benefits for the poor among the upper castes in the long run. Suryanarayan’s analysis offers several interesting insights but her assumption that the BJP is a right-wing anti-redistributive party may be debatable, given the party’s evolution as a rainbow coalition of Hindu voters in recent years.
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